8 - 16 May 2004

Jamie McMillan
Bogdan Kasporczyk

Andreszj (pronounced Angé!)

Marek & Bogdan at Marek's house in the Biebrza Marshes (Photo: Jamie McMillan)

Trip Diary

8 May

We left Heathrow in rain, and arrived at Warsaw in...rain! It was to rain throughout our journey to Rajgrod, and continue through the evening, but even so we managed a few sightings en route including Black Tern on the Vistula in Warsaw. We stopped for a late lunch after about an hour and then continued - most of the group having a good doze and missing the roadside White Storks, but strangely waking up just as we passed a Black Stork on a small marsh, which I dozed through We also saw a couple of Kestrels, and had the crucial Pheasant sighting - in fact we got two just after the tea and cake stop at a rustic restaurant near Lomza.

We unloaded at the Hotel Knieja in the rain, and ended the day with no doubt the first of many blow-out meals.

9 May

It seemed to rain all night, and it was still raining as several of us assembled at six for the first pre-breakfast walk. Nonetheless a good range of birds were encountered including displaying Goldeneye, singing Serin, a nice Hawfinch perched for us in the scopes, and, best of all, a pair of Black Woodpecker seen eventually at scope-filling range. We were to see what was presumably the same pair from the dining room at breakfast.

It had stopped raining as we reached the Wojdy fishponds after breakfast. The first of many Marsh Harriers was admired, and a Grey-headed Woodpecker soon showed on a poolside willow.

Common Tree Frog
(Photo: Martin Phipps)

Bitterns were booming and Savi's Warblers reeling as we made our way slowly round the complex of pools, stopping also to admire the frogs, which included a fine bright green Tree Frog. Bogdan led us round to see a Penduline Tit's woven nest, with the pair paying fleeting visits. We watched the local pond keepers raising one of the sluices by jumping on to a log and levering it slowly up, and Bogdan also pointed out the extensive Beaver damage to the old willows.

Two Black Storks overhead made a fine sight, as did two passing White-winged Black Terns, our first of hundreds during the trip, but looking superb against the dark sky. As the sun came out all too briefly there were suddenly dozens of harriers and herons in the air at once, as well as a passing flock of twelve Cranes - like the skies over Heathrow, someone commented (I said Cranes, not planes!). One drier pool held an excellent selection of waders including Temminck's Stint, Wood Sandpiper and Little Ringed Plover, while two Ruff flocks went low overhead. Here too a fine male Bluethroat showed at the edge of a reedbed.

Then it was on to Tajinka Lake, where Redshank were displaying and Lapwings were attending chicks. A Hoopoe made an odd sight on the meadow, while Blue-headed Wagtails and two Turtle Doves made a fine sight on the roadside wires. Overhead several raptors included a Black Kite (our first in Poland!) and Lesser Spotted Eagle.

We continued on tracks deep into the Biebrza marshes, past flooded fields with smart summer-plumaged Black-tailed Godwit and displaying Snipe, until we reached Marek's house. Built pretty much entirely out of wood by Marek himself, the house is simply amazing, and the welcome from the family equally so. We were soon tucking into a splendid meal, before emerging again to see some of the 'garden' birds which included Icterine Warbler, White Stork and Montagu's Harrier. Some garden! The harriers put on a fabulous show for us, with two males displaying to a female low over the marshy fields.

One of Marek's projects, nay, obsessions is his herd of Tarpan horses. Bred back from ancient Polish stock, these are close to the original European wild horse species, and, as Marek explained, are increasingly seen as grazers important in maintaining wildlife-rich marshland. Marek's herd had two foals for us to admire and 'aaah' over, as they trotted close to their mothers in true instinctive Tarpan style.

Then it was time for tea, and the famous 'dripping cake', and with dark clouds gathering outside, the group seemed reluctant to move from the cosiness of the house. However eventually we headed for the 'hundred bridge' - named after the number of species it is possible to see on a good day there! The wind was strengthening, though, and it was getting cold as we watched the marsh and listened for Corncrakes. Eventually one called, but we only made a half-attempt to see the bird in the worsening conditions, before heading back for another fantastic meal provided by Hania and the family.

We headed back to the hotel well after ten, having enjoyed our first day in Poland enormously despite the weather. This day, when we are welcomed into Marek's home, is quite unique amongst our trips anywhere, and an experience not to be missed!

Hania cuts the 'dripping cake'
(Photo: Colin & Sheila Jennings)

10 May

A damp but calm start for the early morning contingent, with both Black Woodpeckers and a pair of Hawfinch performing well. Highlight was Martin's finding of a Lesser Whitethroat's nest in one of the low ornamental hedges round the car park. It was possible to see the two white eggs by peering into the top of the hedge, and we later watched the sitting bird from the coach windows, as completely by chance Andreszj had parked right alongside. Marek was joining us for the whole day, and we were able proudly to show him 'our' nest as he arrived.

Tree Sparrow (Photo: Martin Phipps)

Today we were heading to the southern end of the marshes. The fact that these were over an hour away gave us some ideal of the huge scale of the area. En route we saw several Grey Partridges and a cheer went up as we spotted another Pheasant.

Our first stop was by a bridge over the Narew River. There were Tree Sparrows breeding in the bridge itself, while further away two male Garganey made a fine sight were on a flooded pool, especially with White-winged Black Terns flying over. Over the river itself Black and Little Terns were 'dipping' side-by-side, and we watched a distant female Red-footed Falcon as it swooped over the marsh and perched in a far away treetop.

We could see from the bridge that the marshes here were much more flooded - Marek explained that this was the lowest part of the whole hundred-mile complex, and they certainly seemed to have more birds than we saw yesterday. We drove along one of the raised tracks with marsh terns flying over the flooded sedge meadows on both sides of us.

We stopped at the end, and the sun came out, lighting up a splendid close flock of 15 White-winged Black Terns, and sending many insects into the air as the temperature started to rise. These were mostly black, weak-flying St Mark's flies, which made ideal food for two Hobbies and up to four Red-footed Falcons which took to the wing right in front of us. The Hobbies swooping low over the marsh at close range made a breathtaking sight, and the adult male Redfoot calmly picking flies out of the air, its pale upperwings contrasting with dusky body, was also a delight. As if this wasn't enough, a group of White Storks on the marsh behind us started a bill-clapping display, while a male Red-backed Shrike posed nicely in a sallow alongside them.

Back over the marsh, then along to our lunch stop at Wizna, via a riverbank where hundreds of hirundines were feeding, and waders included Temminck's Stint.

After another huge lunch, we headed to the edge of the marshes, and stopped high on an overlooking bluff. Here the vast scale of these wetlands began to become apparent - and the sheer numbers of birds. Marsh terns - including our first Whiskered Terns - were flying everywhere, and Marek soon found us a Little Gull to try and spot amongst them. Hundreds of Ruff were flying about in flocks, and we had our first distant views of colourful displaying males at a lek.

Marek went to investigate a little pool just below us and reported a Penduline Tit nestbuilding. We headed down to it, and soon all had wonderful views of the male weaving the first loop of its complex hanging-basket. The sun appeared again briefly, and sent a number of butterflies and a Downy Emerald dragonfly on to the wing.

Back at the bluff we had another look round. Black-necked Grebes were visible, several apparently on nests, and the Ruff were displaying closer. Suddenly Peter pointed out a set of ripples in the water - it was the head of a Beaver. We watched in the scopes as it calmly swam across a pool and climbed out briefly into the base of a sallow. An amazing and very lucky sighting.

Marek took us on to another viewpoint where Scott found three Great White Egrets, and Marek promptly trumped them with distant Elk! We saw four of these huge creatures coming out in different parts of the marsh to browse. A fine male Montagu's Harrier flying out over the marsh beside us made an excellent finale.

Our final stop was through a village, along several twisty tiny roads, and we eventually ended up on a muddy track beside a farm. Marek disappeared to get a key, while the rest donned wellies and waded off along the track and through a field. The key was to a tower hide, reached along a high boardwalk, and up a rather tricky ladder. But once we got up there, it was most definitely worth it. The view out over the flooded marsh was simply staggering, and comparable to many of the great world bird spectacles. Hundreds of marsh terns in superb breeding plumage were flying over the shallow pools, while below them Ruff in all their finery were displaying. Further away over a hundred Cranes fed, a few of them 'dancing' occasionally. Wildfowl and waders were everywhere, the former including fine drake Garganey close in, and Greylag Geese further away. The waders included Spotted Redshank in their dusky breeding plumage and what must have been hundreds of Wood Sandpipers and female Ruff - the numbers only revealing themselves when flushed by a passing Osprey.

We were just trying to take all this in when mammals stared to appear at the back of the marsh. We watched an Elk at much closer range than at the last stop. While we watched, a small pale brown head appeared alongside - it was a tiny calf alongside its mum. Although arguably not the most cuddly of young animals, we could quite clearly see its mini-moose features, and it soon had plenty of 'ahhs' echoing round the group. No sooner had this been admired than a group of Wild Boar - at least eight of them - came trotting out from a small copse across the marsh. It was getting all too much! We dragged ourselves away and headed back to Wizna for supper.

After dark we drove round to the far side of the marsh, to one of its most important sites - Marek's Great Snipe lek. He had warned us that it had been a disastrous year so far, and indeed we waited on the platform in vain. The singing Grasshopper Warblers and deafening Thrush Nightingales in the inky blackness made it a very atmospheric occasion though. We made it back to the hotel after a long but immensely rewarding day in Marek's company at 11.30.

11 May

A small band of stalwarts were up at 5 am to meet Marek and head out to an area of wet meadows about 30 mins away.

On the way two White-tailed Eagles soared over. When we got there we could hear the Black Grouse distantly, then saw a male at some distance on a bush. It showed nicely in the scopes for us though. A perched Lesser Spotted Eagle made us look carefully, as did a perched female Montagu's Harrier way across the marsh, that we only identified as it flew. Roe Deer were out on the marsh, but a much larger and darker shape soon revealed itself as a Wild Boar, giving wonderful scope views, with glimpses of tiny piglets just appearing from time to time in the long grass. Eventually the eagle flew, giving excellent views - and flushed a female Black Grouse right over the road beside us.

After breakfast it took us nearly two hours to reach the Masurian Lakes, and the weather was not looking too good, with drizzle starting. Bogdan took us up a small hill near a lake to watch for raptors, and we had soon seen Hobby, Lesser Spotted and White-tailed Eagles, Marsh Harrier, Buzzard, and a superb Honey Buzzard right overhead. Colin also found us a nicely scope-able Great Grey Shrike.

Then it was on to a Tower hide with views over one of the big lakes. Here we had excellent views of another White-tailed Eagle, and watched an Osprey catching a fish with angular fins - possibly a Bream. Reed and Great Reed Warblers were singing from the lakeshore, Bitterns were booming, and a Black Kite flew over the forest behind us.

No you can't have my Pike: we chat to the stable cat over lunch in the Masurian Lakes (Photo: Jamie McMillan)

A brief forest stop gave us Tree Pipit and then we headed for lunch at a stable - well a stable-cum restaurant, at which we were treated to Pike in wonderful rustic surroundings with a blazing log fire, and where some of us made friends with the stable cat.

We lingered rather a long time over lunch in this fine spot, but as we drove away a dapper male Black Redstart appeared in one of the orchards together with a female Pied Flycatcher. We stopped in a village and Bogdan got out, meeting a laughing girl with whom he mysteriously exchanged plastics bags before we drove off. Although it looked like a scene from a spy drama, the girl was in fact his daughter, and he was just swapping his laundry for some clean clothes for the next few days.

The afternoon walk in the forest was pretty quiet, although we did see a Beaver dam on one of the streams.

A few of us went for an early supper and joined Marek again for a second go at the Great Snipe lek. It was sadly unfruitful although we heard Common Snipe displaying, and Spotted Crake calling, as well as seeing a Marek look-alike leading another group.

12 May

With most of us having a much-needed lie-in, Mary and Martin took the honours this morning, getting excellent views of a Nutcracker by the hotel gates.

It was cold but brightening as we set off towards Bialowieza, and our first stop at a nearby forest edge. Here we were finally rewarded by the sight of two Spotted Eagles in the air together, together with singing Woodlark and overflying Golden Orioles.

On to another part of the Biebrza marshes where we looked out over the sedge hoping for Aquatic Warblers. They were not to be seen, but we spent a happy time exploring as the sun came out and set butterflies on the wing. The meadow nearby was obviously extremely rich in plants, and had Grizzled Skipper, Swallowtail and Wood White to entertain us. We also saw a Heron catch two eels, and admired more marsh terns.

Bodgan then took us to another fabulous lunch spot - a restaurant filled with amazing carved wooden tables and chairs, with a variety of gargoyle-like faces (and the carvings were good as well), all housed in a big converted barn.

From here we drove to Dojlidy fish ponds, where - horror of horrors - we met another birding group! The pond complex was big enough for all of us, though, and we spent a couple of hours getting superb views of both Black-necked and Red-necked Grebes in the sunshine, and marvelling at the number of Great Reed Warblers. Halfway round we watched another pair of Penduline Tits nestbuilding, and saw a variety of butterflies, moths and dragonflies on our route.

Finally we had to leave for the forest, arriving at the amazing hotel Soplicowo at Bialowieza at 7.30, with Corncrakes 'crekking' in the late evening sunshine in the field behind. As I write this late in the evening I can hear at least two Corncrakes and a whole chorus of Thrush Nightingales from my bedroom window.

13 May

A 6 am start and a splendid bright sunny start for a walk around the village.

First good bird just around the corner from the hotel was a singing Wryneck, which flew off before we could all get on to it - most of us not realising it was so close. A pair of Red-backed Shrikes showed well, and then these, or probably yet another pair, were seen visiting a nest in an apple tree further along the street.

Here an Icterine Warbler decided to sing in full show, at last where we could get it in the scopes. Bogdan took us up a side track past some old wooden houses with traditional carved wooden shutters, where we saw yet another Red-backed Shrike, but this time accompanied by a singing Barred Warbler. We eventually all had superb views of this mini-Cuckoo-like songster. Heading back to the road another singing Wryneck was spotted on a nestbox in an orchard, where finally we all got to see it well. Finally, a Quail was heard calling in the distance to round off a productive walk.

After breakfast a Lesser Spotted Eagle flew over the hotel, and a Grey-headed Woodpecker appeared briefly, singing loudly in the roadside trees. We set off for a short drive, and Bogdan observed that the water levels in the roadside marsh were much higher than for his last group a week ago. This meant that we all had to don wellies for the next set-piece - a nest hole high in a dead tree. As we watched, a male White-backed Woodpecker appeared, accompanied by much calling from inside the hole. We waited there for two return visits, also hearing a Scarlet Rosefinch singing while we waited. The first of several Map butterflies was also admired.

Collared Flycatcher
(Photo: Colin & Sheila Jennings

We continued further along into the forest itself, where we achieved the near-impossible by getting prolonged views of a singing Thrush Nightingale in the scopes. Our first Collared Flycatcher of the day - a superb male - was admired as it investigated a nest-hole and sang.

Bogdan then led us along a woodland ride, where we had good views of a Red Squirrel gnawing a cone high in a spruce tree, and had a look at the woodland flora before finding the bus and heading back to base.

By now it had clouded over, and was even beginning to drizzle, and it stayed like this for our afternoon trip to the 'Strict Reserve'. We met up with Dorota, our park guide, near the forest lodge, and walked up to the park gates. Almost as soon as we were inside we could see how different this area was to the forests we had been in so far. The ground flora was probably the most impressive thing to start with - lush, green, and full of flowers. The forest is surprisingly open, and plenty of light gets in allowing the herb layer to flourish - and as Dorota explained, a good caterpillar crop in the trees above fertilises the plants below! As we did expect, there is masses of fallen timber, but much of this is carpeted with moss, which in turn furnishes a habitat for more woodland plants like Wood Sorrel and even tree seedlings. Dorota also showed us several forest giants - huge ancient elms, limes, oaks and spruce trees.

Birdwise it was pretty quiet, although we did see a Middle Spotted Woodpecker and heard a Lesser Spotted near the park gates, and the pale northern race of Nuthatch was seen several times visiting nests. Wood Warbler seemed to be the commonest bird, and several more Collared Flycatchers were seen. But it was the experience of being in a truly wild ancient forest that will linger in the memory.

Dorota, Bialowieza National Park guide, tells us about the ancient forest
(Photo: Jamie McMillan)

14 May

A 5 am start to look for the big ones - Bison - and a cold clear dawn greeted us. For the first time this trip almost all the group turned out for the early start, and expectations were high as we set off into the forest, peering hard into deep cover. We stopped by a local pushing a bicycle and Andreszj spoke to him - he shrugged his shoulders and gesticulated far down the track. Ah, not looking too hopeful, then. We saw a Red Deer on a side track, and had a very brief view of Wild Boar before walking to a clearing where three Red Deer browsed in the sunlight. But despite all our efforts, no Bison, so we headed for a much needed coffee and breakfast.

Map butterfly
(Photo: Martin Phipps)

After breakfast we drove again down the same forest track heading north, and Michael glimpsed what he described as a grey, partridge-like bird flying up into a tree. We walked back along the track and Bogdan tried to whistle up what must have been a Hazel Grouse without success.

Further along the track we were stopped by forestry operations, but we made the most of the hold-up, seeing several butterflies in a clearing together with Slow Worm and Crested Tit.

We drove through several attractive villages on to Zbiornik Siemianówka - the water reserve. It seemed to be a standard reservoir with a concrete dam as we approached, but a Bittern was booming and marsh terns were flying about - this was evidently a reservoir with a difference. From the top of the dam we could see why. The water level was kept low, and a mass of reed and sallow could grow, with small pools producing a wonderful habitat. We watched a drake Garganey, and then a buzzy call alerted us to one of the specialities - Citrine Wagtail. Soon we had superb views of a male singing in front of us, and we later saw at least one other male (Bogdan counted five!) and a female - an impressive tally of this Russian bird in one of its very few European breeding sites. An Osprey, two White-tailed Eagles soaring and displaying, and masses of Common Lizards on the bank formed the supporting cast.

Male Citrine Wagtail
(Photo: Jamie McMillan)

We continued on through the landscape of small farms with traditional low wooden houses surrounded by forest. It was easy to imagine 'Peter and the Wolf' placed in this setting and indeed some of the farmhouses came complete with grandfather and cat. At the small village of Bachury a splendid Black Stork wheeled overhead, gleaming in the sunshine. We had lunch by one of the small lakes here - and we had picked a splendid warm afternoon for our picnic. Some sunbathing - and dare I say dozing - even broke out amongst the group, while the butterfly brigade went into overdrive as the sun heated up their quarry.

We walked over a recently- redug causeway to a small lake full of nesting Black-headed Gulls, which also held a good selection of waterbirds including our first Whooper Swan. The we drove out on to the surrounding dry open farmland and stopped suddenly as Bodgan saw a Roller, and the a second, in the roadside poplars. One then flew on to wires over the field, giving us excellent views as it swooped to catch one of the many Cockchafers that were flying about.

We drove on through dry heathland with scattered pines, and two Great Grey Shrikes performed well on top of small pines for us. We headed round to the far side of the wetland for a walk in late afternoon sun, seeing several raptors and watching a pair of Red-backed Shrike courtship feeding.

Then it was time for the drive back along the forest tracks. Near the area we visited in the morning, a small grey gamebird flew up low into a tree. We stopped, and this time saw the Hazel Grouse - one of the most elusive of the family - perched at coach-height in a spruce tree. We watched it fly down from its perch and walk away into the forest. A little further along we had to stop again as three large shapes appeared through the trees - Bison! We watched what turned out to be three young bulls as they gazed back at us, but soon they had had enough and lumbered away to disappear amongst the trees. A thrilling encounter.

In the evening modern technology caught up with us as we had a digital slide show from the 'digiscopers' on the hotel widescreen TV. It is rumoured that one or two group members then went to join the Polish karaoke night in the bar - and singing 'We are the champions'. And after a day like that, who could blame them?

Red-backed Shrike: a frequent sight on the trip (Photo:Jamie McMillan)

15 May

A very clear night had produced a ground frost and a beautiful morning. Before breakfast we headed down to a bridge just outside the village, and saw an excellent selection of local birds. While Corncrakes called we watched Hawfinch, Thrush Nightingale, Red-backed Shrike, Scarlet Rosefinch, Wryneck and Barred Warbler, accompanied by the sewing-machine like song of River Warbler. Bogdan then led us along the road where we had excellent views of a singing River Warbler at eye-level in an alder.

Then it was on to the Zebra Zubra trail, a delightful walk through the flower-rich woodland. Suddenly a Nutcracker flew along in front of us, and we peered trough the leaves trying to get views. Eventually we approached it - and two others - as they fed on caterpillars right overhead. An excellent find, and a bird that most of us had missed at Biebrza.

Helpful signs by the track informed us abut the trees, notably that alder buckthorn, in translation, was used in 'diseases of bilious bag'. At the end of the trail, some market stalls sent the power-shoppers into a frenzied and evidently productive half-hour of activity, while Bogdan was off birding. When we had gathered he led us a short walk into the woods where we almost immediately heard a Red-breasted Flycatcher singing. After a wait it reappeared, revealing itself briefly to be a fine red-breasted adult, but remained typically and frustratingly mobile.

After lunch it was beginning to rain, but we still headed off to an area of spruce forest - Wysockie Bagno, right on the Belarus border, where many of the trees had been killed by bark beetle. Normally a good area for woodpeckers, it was very quiet in these conditions, although we did get good views of a Goshawk overhead, and fleeting views of a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker's bill as it peeked out of its nest-hole. Finally a walk back through the Palace Park gave us a fine Hawfinch feeding on one of the paths like a sparrow.

The skies darkened through dinner, and Bogdan and I sat glumly looking out of the window at the ever-increasing rain. But right at the end it slackened off, and we decided to go for it - the owl watch. After nearly an hour driving slowly along forest tracks, we exited in increasing gloom and rain while Arek, the local owl-guide, was already (and confusingly!) whistling 'pew' from the trees beyond. But within a few minutes the Pygmy Owl itself had responded - though its call was impossible to tell from Arek's! Then suddenly it appeared on top of first one spruce, then another, sending both leaders scurrying back and forth to get a good scope position. Luckily it stayed on the second tree long enough for all to view this sparrow-sized owl through the scope, as it threw its head back and called. An exciting few moments, and definitely worth getting wet and mosquito-bitten for!

16 May

Several of us joined Bogdan for a short early morning jaunt near the village where he had obtained detailed directions to a nest site. As we got there the bird was already active nearby, and we didn't have long to wait before the female Three-toed Woodpecker showed again, performing brilliantly in the scopes - feeding on the spruce branches and visiting the nest hole in a typically confiding manner. A couple of cute - and I use the word advisedly - northerrn-race Long-tailed Tits were also about in the same tree, and as we walked back to the bus, a Red-breasted Flycatcher - this time a plain second-year bird - sang from the path ahead. A productive visit!

We set off at 9, and were in Warsaw at 1.30, giving us an hour around the wonderfully reconstructed old city. As it was a pleasant Sunday the city was in full fiesta mode, with singing and dancing in the squares.

After a final lunch we headed for the airport and said our thanks and farewell to Bogdan and Andreszj.

Thanks to Marek's family and helpers for a wonderful day at their home in the marshes, to Andreszj for tireless driving 'where no bus has gone before' - and stopping so promptly, often at false alarms, to Bogdan for his companionship and excellent bird-finding, and Marek, for organising the whole thing, and giving us an inspirational day (and more!) on the marshes. Hope the Great Snipes do eventually return!

Thanks too to the group for your excellent company and enthiusiasm, and especially to Martin, Colin & Sheila for the photos, and for all the digiscoping advice!

Jamie McMillan


May 2004


Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis Two on the southern Biebrza marshes, 10th.

Red-necked Grebe Podiceps grisegena Four at Dojlidy fishponds,12th. One at Zbiornik Siemianówka,14th.

Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus Noted six days on most open waters.

Black-necked (Eared) Grebe Podiceps nigricollis Seen on nests in the southern Biebrza marshes, and at Dojlidy fishponds and Zbiornik Siemianówka.

Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo Noted on wetlands on five days.Max 10 at Dojlidy fishponds, 12th.

Grey Heron Ardea cinerea Noted seven days in most wetland areas. Max 20+ in the northern Biebrza marshes, 9th.

Great White Egret Egretta alba Three in the southern Biebrza marshes on 10th, with a single in the same area on 12th.

Great Bittern Botaurus stellaris Heard booming from various reedbeds on four days.

Black Stork Ciconia nigra Two at Wojdy fishponds, 9th, with a single in the southern Biebrza on 10th. One seen in sunshine over Bachury village, 14th.

White Stork Ciconia ciconia The area has probably the densest White Stork population in Europe. Nests seen around most farms and villages, and on roadsides, courtesy of the Polish National Grid.

Mute Swan Cygnus olor Noted on most open waters.

Whooper Swan Cygnus cygnus One at Zbiornik Siemianówka, 14th.

Greylag Goose Anser anser Noted three days on Biebrza marshes and at Zbiornik Siemianówka. Max 20+ on the southern Biebrza, 10th.

Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope A duck seen on the Masurian Lakes, 11th. Two at Zbiornik Siemianówka, 14th.

Gadwall Anas strepera A single on the Masurian Lakes was followed by five on the southern Biebrza, 12th and 10+ at Zbiornik Siemianówka, 14th.

Common Teal Anas crecca One on the southern Biebrza, 10th.

Mallard Anas platyrhynchos Common, but never really abundant in wet areas.

Garganey Anas querquedula Eight on the southern Biebrza, 10th with c10 at Zbiornik Siemianówka, 14th.

Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata Two at Wojdy fishponds, 9th with one at Dojlidy fishponds, 12th.

Common Pochard Aythya ferina c20 on southern Biebrza, 10th with 5 in the same area, 12th and a single at Zbiornik Siemianówka, 14th.

Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula Recorded in the same areas as the above species, in slightly greater numbers. Max 30+ on 10th.

Common Goldeneye Bucephala clangula Seen daily at the Knieja lake, max 10+ on 9th with a pair displaying.

Goosander Mergus merganser Two at Wojdy fishponds, singles at Knieja and the Masurian Lakes. All redheads.

Osprey Pandion haliaetus Five records over the major wetland sites. One seen to catch a fish at the Masurian Lakes.

European Honey Buzzard Pernis apivorus Two over the raptor watchpoint, Masurian Lakes, 11th. One over Bialowieza, 13th.

Black Kite Milvus migrans One at Tajinka Lake, 9th. One at the Masurian Lakes, 11th. A new species for us in Poland.

White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla c10 over the Masurain Lakes, 11th. Four (or the same two seen twice!) at Zbiornik Siemianówka, 14th.

Montagu's Harrier Circus pygargus Delightfully numerous. Up to six per day noted on six days. Most in the northern Biebrza, 9th.

Eurasian Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus The most numerous raptor. Seen daily.

Northern Goshawk Accipiter gentilis One over Wysockie Bagno, 15th.

Common (Eurasian) Buzzard Buteo buteo Up to eight seen daily. Most on the fine day at Zbiornik Siemianówka, 14th.

Lesser Spotted Eagle Aquila pomarina Up to six noted on five days in both Biebrza and Bialowieza. Max six in Masurian Lakes, 11th.

Greater Spotted Eagle Aquila clanga Two seen in Biebrza, 12th, with another single at Zbiornik Siemianówka, 14th.

Common (Eurasian) Kestrel Falco tinnunculus Two seen en route from Warsaw on 8th, with, unusually, one at the Spotted Eagle site in Biebrza, 12th.

Red-footed Falcon Falco vespertinus Wonderful views of both mature and subadult males and females on the southern Biebrza, 10th. Probably six birds seen.

Eurasian Hobby Falco subbuteo Noted on four days in both Biebrza and Bialowieza, max three on 10th in southern Biebrza, including two giving superb views as they hunted low over a marsh with Red-footed Falcons.

Black Grouse Lyrurus tetrix Two seen early morning in the meadow habitat near the northern Biebrza on 11th: a displaying cock scoped on a bush, and a hen flushed across the road by a Lesser Spotted Eagle!

Hazel Grouse Bonasa bonasia Two seen from the vehicle at Bialowieza, 14th: one very briefly, and another seen much better, flying into a tree and then on the forest floor.

Grey Partridge Perdix perdix Noted on two days: max 10 in the northern Biebrza on 10th, with a single en route on 12th.

Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus Two en route from Warsaw on 8th, with one actually in the Biebrza - in surrounding village fields - on 10th.

Common Quail Coturnix coturnix One heard, Bialowieza village, 13th. A new species for us in Poland.

Common Crane Grus grus Noted on six days, both Biebrza and Bialowieza, max 200+ on 10th in the southern Biebrza.

Corn Crake Crex crex Heard on six days, both Biebrza and Bialowieza, including from the Bialowieza hotel at night. One seen there by Bogdan on the hotel lawn just after it had been mown!

Spotted Crake Porzana porzana One heard from the Great Snipe platform, 11th.

Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus One at Zbiornik Siemianówka, 14th - a strangely unusual bird in Poland!

Eurasian Coot Fulica atra C10 noted three days at wetland sites, both Biebrza and Bialowieza.

(Northern) Lapwing Vanellus vanellus Noted on seven days mostly on wet meadows. Chicks seen at Tajinka Lake, 9th.

Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius Noted at Wojdy fishponds, where display seen (total c12) and Zbiornik Siemianówka (c11)

Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa Noted on 9th & 10th in Biebrza, max c20 in southern Biebrza.

Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata Noted in Biebrza and Masurian Lakes on three days, max five in southern Biebrza, 10th.

Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus Five seen in southern Biebrza, 10th.

Common Redshank Tringa totanus Noted four days in Biebrza and Masurian Lakes.

Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia One in southern Biebrza, 10th, with another single in Masurian Lakes, 11th.

Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus Two together in a ditch at Zbiornik Siemianówka, 14th

Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola Numerous on passage in Biebrza. Noted 9th & 10th, max 50+ in the wetter parts of the marsh on 10th.

Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos Up to four noted on four days at various open water margins.

Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago A few noted both Biebrza and Bialowieza, with drumming heard from the Great Snipe platform, 11th.

Temminck's Stint Calidris temminckii Up to six noted, both Biebrza and Bialowieza, max six at Wojdy fishponds, 9th.

Dunlin Calidris alpina Twelve from the tower hide, southern Biebrza, 10th.

Ruff Philomachus pugnax One of the delights of the trip was seeing Ruff lekking- albeit mostly at some distance. Noted three days, both Biebrza and Bialowieza, with hundreds in the southern Biebrza on 10th.

Common (Mew) Gull Larus canus A single in the southern Biebrza on 10th, with six at Zbiornik Siemianówka, 14th.

Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus Common; noted six days, with several colonies visited.

Little Gull Larus minutus Three in southern Biebrza, 10th, with three at Dojlidy fishponds on 12th. All immatures.

Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybridus The least numerous of the marsh terns. A few dozen seen during the trip, on the southern Biebrza marshes and Zbiornik Siemianówka, with one at the Dojlidy fishponds.

White-winged (Black) Tern Chlidonias leucoptera One of the great delights of the trip was seeing this superb tern in numbers. The most numerous marsh tern seen, with hundreds on the southern Biebrza. Also at most fisponds, and Zbiornik Siemianówka.

Black Tern Chlidonias niger Probably the most widespread of the marsh terns, but never in great numbers.Up to c20/day noted six days.

Common Tern Sterna hirundo Noted five days, max six at Dojlidy fishponds.

Little Tern Sterna albifrons Just four on the Narew River, southern Biebrza.

Rock Dove (Feral Pigeon) Columba livia Widespread and common. Seen each day, including in 'wild' habitats.

(Common) Wood Pigeon Columba palumbus Widespread. Up to c20 seen each day.

European Turtle Dove Streptopelia turtur Just one record of two birds seen well on wires at Tajinka Lake, 9th.

Eurasian Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto Common and widespread around Biebrza, but only a few seen at Bialowieza.

Common (Eurasian) Cuckoo Cuculus canorus Common. Noted seven days, with several flight sightings.

Tawny Owl Strix aluco A grey phase bird seen very well by Bogdan and a determined splinter group in the Strict Reserve on 13th.

Eurasian Pygmy Owl Glaucidium passerinum One coming to Arek's call on the evening of 15th seen for a few minutes calling from the top of a spruce in the fading light.

European Nightjar Caprimulgus europaeus One glimpsed in the headlights on the Tsar's road, 10th.

Common Swift Apus apus Widepread. Noted each day except the 15th in Bialowieza.

European Roller Coracias garrulus Two seen in dry farmland near Zbiornik Siemianówka on 14th, one giving superb views on wires and swooping on Cockchafers.

(Eurasian) Hoopoe Upupa epops Singles at Wojdy fishponds, Tajinka Lake and Zbiornik Siemianówka.

(Eurasian) Wryneck Jynx torquilla Wonderful views around Bialowieza village, where c4 seen daily.

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos minor Heard at Bialowieza, with brief glimpses in flight and on a nest.

Middle Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos medius One in the Strict Reserve, 13th.

White-backed Woodpecker Dendrocopos leucotos Superb views of a male visiting a nest with young at Bialowieza, 13th.

Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major One in the Masurian Lakes, 11th. Up to c6 daily at Bialowieza.

Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides tridactylus A female seen very well around a nest hole in Bialowieza on the morning of 16th.

Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius Super views of a pair at the Hotel Knieja most mornings, with glimpses on four days at Bialowieza. A somewhat unexpected sighting of a male on a road verge en route to Warsaw on 16th.

Green Woodpecker Picus viridis Heard only at both Biebrza and Bialowieza.

Grey-headed Woodpecker Picus canus Two seen at Wojdy fishponds on 9th, with two males both seen and heard around Bialowieza village.

Wood Lark Lullula arborea One in the Masurian Lakes, 11th; one at the Spotted Eagle site, 12th.

(Eurasian) Sky Lark Alauda arvensis Common and widespread. Noted daily.

European Sand Martin Riparia riparia Noted on five days, usually near water.

Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica Common and widespread. Noted daily.

Common House Martin Delichon urbica Common around the villages and towns. Noted daily.

Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava The Blue-headed race was widespread and common in wetter areas. Noted six days.

Citrine Wagtail Motacilla citreola Wonderful views of at least two males and a female (Bogdan counted six birds!) at Zbiornik Siemianówka, 14th.

White Wagtail Motacilla alba alba Widepread. Noted daily.

Tree Pipit Anthus trivialis Two at the Masurian Lakes forest, 11th, with one at Bialowieza on 13th.

Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis Up to six seen each day in Biebrza.

Northern (Great Grey) Shrike Lanius excubitor One at the Masurian Lakes, 11th. Four around Zbiornik Siemianówka n 14th with superb views of two on small pines in heathland habitat.

Red-backed Shrike Lanius collurio Delightfully common and widespread. Noted six days, with max 10+ at Bialowieza on 13th including a pair visiting a nest.

(Winter) Wren Troglodytes troglodytes Heard mostly in forest areas - just one or two per day on four days.

Hedge Accentor (Dunnock) Prunella modularis Noted only on two days in Bialowieza - only one or two per day.

Common (Eurasian) Blackbird Turdus merula Widespread and fairly numerous.

Fieldfare Turdus pilaris The commonest thrush. Seen daily, usually around the villages. Nest seen on Marek's eaves!

Song Thrush Turdus philomelos Heard one in Biebrza, but more numerous in Bialowieza, where seen daily.

Mistle Thrush Turdus viscivorus Up to four a day seen in both Biebrza and Bialowieza.

European Robin Erithacus rubecula One or two noted on six days, both Biebrza and Bialowieza

Thrush Nightingale Luscinia luscinia Incredibly abundant and vocal 24/7! Several sightings, mostly early mornings, but including one by all in the scopes at Bialowieza on 13th.

Bluethroat Luscinia svecica A fine male at Wojdy fishponds on 9th. One heard from the Great Snipe platform, 11th.

Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros Up to three seen per day on five days around the villages.

Common Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus Elusive, but up to two seen on four days, both at the Hotel Knieja and at Bialowieza.

Whinchat Saxicola rubetra Common and widespread in open habitats. Noted daily.

Grasshopper Warbler Locustella naevia Heard on three days in both Biebrza and Bialowieza, with one seen early morning on 11th at the Black Grouse site.

(Eurasian) River Warbler Locustella fluviatilis Noted only on 15th at Bialowieza after a clear night when presumably they suddenly arrived. Two seen well around the village.

Savi's Warbler Locustella luscinioides Heard on five days at both Biebrza and Bialowieza, with sightings at Wojdy Fishponds and the southern Biebrza.

Sedge Warbler Acrocephalus schoenobaenus Noted on six days at both Biebrza and Bialowieza.

(Eurasian) Reed Warbler Acrocephalus scirpaceus One heard from the tower hide, Masurian Lakes, 11th.

Great Reed Warbler Acrocephalus arundinaceus Common in all reedbed habitats both Biebrza and Bialowieza, with up to c30 seen per day on six days.

Icterine Warbler Hippolais icterina A few noted singing on seven days mostly around the settlements.

Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus Common and widespread in both Biebrza and Bialowieza. Noted eight days.

Common Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita Widespread in both Biebrza and Bialowieza but not as numerous as the former. Noted eight days.

Wood Warbler Phylloscopus sibilatrix The most abundant leaf warbler - and possibly the most widespread bird. We were rarely out of range of its song.

Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla Widepread in forests and woods. Noted eight days.

Garden Warbler Sylvia borin Noted from 10th, and seemed to get commoner as the trip went on - possibly birds were still arriving during the week.

Common Whitethroat Sylvia communis Widespread in open habitats, with up to at least ten per day on eight days.

Lesser Whitethroat Sylvia curruca Heard on each day of the trip. Seen only sporadically, but a nest found by Martin and Mary at the Knieja could be seen by all from the bus window!

Barred Warbler Sylvia nisoria Good views of several birds around Bialowieza village 13th - 15th.

Goldcrest Regulus regulus Odd ones or two heard in most conifer-rich areas on six days.

Firecrest Regulus ignicapilla Heard in a couple of places around Bialowieza, as well as in the Strict Reserve. A first for The Travelling Naturalist in Poland.

Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata Singles at Marek's house and the Knieja were followed by more numerous records around Bialowieza at the end of the week. Another species that seemed to be arriving during the week.

European Pied Flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca A female at the stables lunch stop in the Masurian Lakes on 11th. Two around Bialowieza on 13th.

Collared Flycatcher Ficedula albicollis Numerous and vocal in the Bialowieza forests, with max 10+ seen on three dates, including a pair visiting a nest hole.

Red-breasted Flycatcher Ficedula parva One reported at the Knieja on 10th was followed by a red-breasted male singing near the animal park at Bialowieza on 15th and a 2nd-summer bird near the Three-toed Woodpecker nest on 16th.

Long-tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatus The superb and 'cute' northern race birds seen on 13th and 16th (when max c3) around Bialowieza.

(Eurasian) Penduline Tit Remiz pendulinus One of the great experiences of the trip was watching this bird at nests in various stages of construction. A few seen each day in Biebrza.

Marsh Tit Parus palustris One or two at the Knieja and at Bialowieza.

Coal Tit Parus ater Up to 6 per day noted in the Masurian Lakes and at Bialowieza.

Crested Tit Parus cristatus Singles seen on 14th and 15th at Bialowieza.

Great Tit Parus major Widespread and common in many habitats. Noted each day.

Blue Tit Parus caeruleus Surprisingly scarce, particularly at Biebrza, but noted both there and Bialowieza.

Eurasian Nuthatch Sitta europaea The pale northern form widespread and seen on eight days both Biebrza and Bialowieza.

Eurasian Treecreeper Certhia familiaris Noted at the Knieja, Masurian Lakes and Bialowieza on five days, with a nest seen in Bialowieza.

Eurasian Jay Garrulus glandarius Widespread. Noted each day.

Black-billed Magpie Pica pica Widespread. Noted each day.

Eurasian (Spotted) Nutcracker Nucifraga caryocatactes One seen at the Knieja by Mary and Martin on 12th was followed by three more - possibly a family group - gratefully seen by the rest of us on the Zebra Zubra trail on 15th.

Eurasian (Western) Jackdaw Corvus monedula Widepsread and common, especially around farmland. Noted each day.

Rook Corvus frugilegus Noted each day in Biebrza, but not seen in Bialowieza.

Hooded Crow Corvus cornix Wiepread and common in Biebrza, with just a few seen in Bialowieza.

Common Raven Corvus corax One or two seen on seven days.

(Eurasian) Golden Oriole Oriolus oriolus Heard on eight days of the trip, but only seen occasionally flying over. Two males were seen perched briefly at the Spotted Eagle site on 12th.

Common (European) Starling Sturnus vulgaris Common. Noted each day, and not necessarily associated with human habitation; many were breeding in the forests.

Corn Bunting Miliaria calandra Two seen from Marek's 'hundred bridge' on 9th.

Yellowhammer Emberiza citrinella Widespread and common. Noted daily.

Ortolan Bunting Emberiza hortulana One seen briefly at Zbiornik Siemianówka on dry farmland.

(Eurasian) Reed Bunting Emberiza schoeniclus Widespread and common. Seen daily in wet habitats.

Common Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs Widespread and common. Noted daily.

European Serin Serinus serinus Noted on six days, both around the Knieja and Bialowieza village.

European Greenfinch Carduelis chloris Widespread. Noted daily.

(Eurasian) Siskin Carduelis spinus Singles at the Knieja on 9th and 10th, with one at Bialowieza on 13th.

European Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis Widespread. Noted daily.

Common Linnet Carduelis cannabina A few seen on five days. Nowhere numerous.

Common Rosefinch Carpodacus erythrinus Heard near Bialowieza on 13th, with views of two, including a red male, near Bialowieza village on 15th. But only Martin had a really good view of these!

Eurasian Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula Two seen around the Knieja on a couple of mornings.

Hawfinch Coccothraustes coccothraustes Another delightful feature of the trip was seeing Hawfinch so often. Perhaps the most extraordinary sighting was of one in the Palace Park, Bialowieza, hopping along one of the paths like a park sparrow!

House Sparrow Passer domesticus Still wonderfully numerous around the villages.

Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus Noted on six days, often around farm buildings.


Eastern Hedgehog Erinaceus concolor One dead on the road, Masurian Lakes, 11th.

Mole Talpa europaea Molehills seen on several days.

Wolf Canis lupus Dung seen in Bialowieza forest on 13th!

Red Fox Vulpes vulpes One in Bialowieza and one at Zbiornik Siemianówka on 14th.

Wild Boar Sus scrofa A good series of sightings, with eight from the tower hide in southern Biebrza, 10th, one early morning in Biebrza, 11th, and singles in Bialowieza on 12th and 14th.

Red Deer Cervus elaphus A total of eight on the ealry morning Bison-watch, Bialowieza, 14th.

Elk Alces alces A total of four plus a calf in the southern Biebrza, 10th.

Roe Deer Capreolus capreolus Up to four seen on five days, both Biebrza and Bialowieza.

European Bison Bison bonasus Three immature (but impressive!) bulls seen in Bialowieza on the evening of 14th.

Red Squirrel Sciurus vulgaris Up to six seen on three days in Bialowieza.

European Beaver Castor fiber Tree damage and dams seen in Biebrza and the Masurian Lakes, and the animal itself seen through scope in the southern Biebrza, 10th.

Brown Hare Lepus europaeus Up to four seen on five dates, both Biebrza and Bialowieza.


Fire-bellied Toad Bombina bombina Seen and heard on three dates, Biebrza, Dojlidy and Zbiornik Siemianówka.

Common Toad Bufo bufo One in Biebrza, 10th and one Dojlidy, 12th

Common Tree Frog Hyla arborea Several at Wojdy, 9th, with one in Biebrza, 10th.

Moor Frog Rana arvalis All the brown frogs examined (them metatarsal tubercles again!) were of this species.

Marsh Frog Rana ridibunda Identified at various wetland sites on three days.

Pool Frog Rana lessoni Identified at Wojdy fish ponds, but probably found in most wetland sites. The 'green frogs' - the above two species - were abundant in most pools and marshes.


Sand Lizard Lacerta agilis Singles on 10th in southern Biebrza, and at Zbiornik Siemianówka, 14th

Viviparous (Common) Lizard Lacerta vivipara More than 20 seen at Zbiornik Siemianówka, 14th

Slow Worm Anguis fragilis One in a Bialowieza clearing, 14th


Eel Two seen being eaten by a Grey Heron near Goniadz, 12th.

Carp At the lunch spot at Goniadz

Chub Probably this sp. at the same place

Bream Possibly this species being carried by an Osprey at the Masurian Lakes

Pike On the menu at the Masurian Lakes!


Swallowtail Papilio machaon One near Goniadz, 12th; c4 in Bialowieza & Zbiornik Siemianówka, 14th

Small white Artogeia rapae Noted on two days, Biebrza.

Green-veined white Artogeia napi Noted three days, both Bialowieza & Biebrza

Orange-tip Anthocharis cardamines Noted four days, both Biebrza and Bialowieza.

Brimstone Goneptryx rhamni Noted two days in Bialowieza.

Wood white Leptidea sinapis Seen Goniadz, 12th, and two days in Bialowieza.

Green hairstreak Callophrys rubi One along trackside, Bialowieza, 14th.

Small copper Lycaena phlaeas c5 in Zbiornik Siemianówka, 14th

Sooty copper Lycaena tityrus One at Zbiornik Siemianówka, 14th.

Holly blue Celastrina argiolus Seen at roadside bushes near Goniadz on 12th

Short-tailed blue Everes argiades Seen at the edge of a meadow near Goniadz, 12th and identified from photos in retrospect!

Peacock Inachis io One or two note three days in Bialowieza.

Small tortoiseshell Aglais urticae One in Zbiornik Siemianówka.

Map butterfly Araschinia levana One of the delights of the trip; seen two days in Bialowieza.

Queen of Spain fritillary Issoria lathonia One at Dojlidy fishponds, 12th. 5-10 at Zbiornik Siemianówka on 14th.

Weaver's/Violet fritillary Clossiana dia c5 noted at Zbiornik Siemianówka and Bialowieza, 14th.

Small heath Coenonympha pamphilius Noted three days. Max 10+ in Zbiornik Siemianówka.

Speckled wood Pararge aegeria Noted two days in Bialowieza

Grizzled skipper Pyrgus malvae c3 near Goniadz, 12th; Two at Zbiornik Siemianówka, 14th.


Latticed Heath Semiothisa clathrata At Dojlidy fishponds

Common Heath Ematurga atomaria At Biebrza, 12th.

Drinker moth Philudoria potatoria Caterpillars at Dojlidy

Garden Tiger Arctia caja Caterpillars at Bialowieza

Broad-bordered Bee Hawkmoth Hemaris fuciformis Two at Zbiornik Siemianówka, 14th.

Mother Shipton Callistege mi One at Zbiornik Siemianówka.


Brilliant Emerald Somatochlora metallica One at Dojlidy fishponds, 12th.

Downy Emerald Cordulia aenea Noted three days, both Biebrza and Bialowieza, and at Zbiornik Siemianówka.


'Colorado Bug' Graphostoma italicum Noted in Bialowieza, 13th.

Cardinal Beetle sp Noted in Bialowieza, 13th.

© The Travelling Naturalist 2004