The extensive forests and marshes of eastern Poland have long been a favourite of birdwatchers. This popular spring tour focuses on two of the country’s very best wildlife reserves, the primeval forests of Bialowieza and the extensive marshlands and floodplains of the Biebrza National Park. Within these two contrasting areas we hope to enjoy such avian delights as Aquatic Warbler, Citrine Wagtail, displaying Great Snipe, Pygmy Owl, Spotted Eagle and up to eight species of woodpecker! In May the forests of Bialowieza will be alive with birdsong as newly arrived warblers and flycatchers compete for territory, whilst the adjacent wet meadows echo to the bizarre ‘crex crex’ call of the Corncrake and all three species of marsh tern hawk for insects over the flooded fields that edge the Biebrza River. As we explore these pristine habitats we may be silently — and unknowingly —watched by a Wolf or Lynx, both of which still patrol the forests, or perhaps come across a small herd of European Bison which are being increasingly recorded in the spring by our groups. Indeed, although birds will certainly take centre stage on this holiday, we will not ignore Poland’s wealth of other wildlife which should include Elk, European Beaver and perhaps Wild Boar and an interesting variety of butterflies, dragonflies and plants.
We begin our holiday with a flight to Warsaw from where we will drive east to the Bialowieza Forest, close to the Belarus border. This forest complex covers a total of 1,250 square kilometres of land straddling the border of Poland and Belarus. Of this, 580 square kilometres lie within Poland and hold some of Europe’s last remaining true primeval lowland mixed forest. It is home to over 200 species of birds and one of Europe’s last herds of Wisent, the rare European Bison. Other mammals include both Lynx and Wolf although we would be very fortunate indeed to find either of these. During our 4-night stay here we will visit the famous Bialowieza National Park, 47.5 square kilometres of magnificent untouched lowland forest. The swampy alder woods, old limes, oaks and hornbeams are truly impressive and important enough to have earned its selection as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve. In the spring, the forest will be alive with the drumming of woodpeckers, White-backed and Black included, and the songs of a wide variety of other birds.
We will also explore the vast managed forests, home of such species as Pygmy Owl, Three-toed Woodpecker, Nutcracker and the elusive Hazel Grouse. The marshes and meadows surrounding the Narweka River hold a healthy population of Corncrakes, together with Lesser Spotted Eagles, Scarlet Rosefinches, and Barred, River and Marsh Warblers, whilst a walk around the ‘Palace Park’ should add Thrush Nightingale, Icterine Warbler and Wryneck to our list. If there is one family of birds that epitomises the Bialowieza Forest for birdwatchers then it has to be the woodpeckers, and with careful searching we have every chance of leaving with sightings of no less than eight species — Green, Grey-headed, Black, Great Spotted, Middle Spotted, Lesser Spotted, Whitebacked and Three-toed — an impressive tally to rival any site in Europe!
We will then head north-west to our base for the latter part of the holiday, the Biebrza Marshes. En route we will visit Siemianówka Reservoir, a superb area of open water and marshes formed by the damming of the River Narew. Both Rednecked and Black-necked Grebes are common on the water, whilst over it hunt all three marsh terns (Black, Whiskered and the beautiful White-winged Tern). Continuing north-west we will stop for lunch on the edge of Narwianski Landscape Park where the meandering Narew River has created a maze of reed-fringed backwaters and flooded meadows, home to flocks of Cranes, breeding Black-tailed Godwits and numerous Marsh Harriers. From here it is only a short drive to our second base in the heart of the Biebrza basin.
The Biebrza Marshes extend along the meandering River Biebrza between the towns of Augustów and Lomza. This vast area, a mosaic of marshes, ponds, wet meadows, reedbeds and alder woodlands, makes up the largest continuous expanse of riverine marshland left in Europe. If Bialowieza conjures up visions of woodpeckers then, for the birdwatcher, Biebrza brings to mind pictures of Great Snipe and Aquatic Warbler. At dusk the Great Snipe move onto their lek site and during at least one evening we too will move in to watch the display unfold. Indeed, at this site there will be the opportunity to see all three European species of snipe — Great, Common and Jack — plus their close relative, the Woodcock. We will also search the sedge beds and wet meadows for Aquatic Warbler and during our stay in the marshes hope to see such species as Great Reed, River, Savi’s, Grasshopper and Marsh Warblers, Bluethroat, Penduline Tit, Black Grouse, Spotted Eagle, Bittern, Crane, Little Crake, plus breeding Ruff and Whitewinged Tern. Elk are also common in the marshes and we will have every chance of finding one of these magnificent cervids before being forced to head back to Warsaw for our flight home.
I enjoy watching birds, particularly seeing on holiday those which are difficult to see in England. I cannot identify bird song, and have difficulty in spotting birds and identifying some of them, so it was very satisfying to have a leader of the calibre of Peter Dunn who was very kind and patient in ensuring the group saw each bird before moving on. Przemek was excellent in showing birds through his telescope and was charming, cheerful and humorous. They were both very good in modifying the itinerary when the weather was adverse.
Andrzej Petryna's local knowledge of the birds and other wildlife at both locations was really impressive, as were his ID skills. The relatively small group size (we were the 'overflow' group) was a definite plus, particularly when birding in the forest. Highlights were very good views of most of the European Woodpeckers (including four I've not seen before) and also 'filling the scope' views of two bison and a young elk. The habitats at both locations were terrific.
Everything was well organised and enjoyable. The leaders worked trips well around the weather forecast so that birds were easier to see.
Thought that the leader Peter Dunn was excellent in his management of the group and the itinerary. He worked well with the local guide and together they adjusted the itinerary according to the weather.
The staff at Unicat in Bialowieski gave me some excellent vegetarian food even thinking that when it was sausage day at breakfast I got a cheese fritter. All evening vegetarian meals were varied and tasted great. Liked the Bartek hotel, especially its location and we had a nice room. Overall a great week.
Peter Dunn - first class, enthusiastic, interesting, caring and engaging. Great time all round - even the weather was wonderful!!
We did not know what to expect on this holiday or what the wildlife and nature would be like. We were very happy with what we saw and did. Peter Dunn our leader was excellent in every way and his knowledge of the areas visited and the wildlife were outstanding.
Many thanks for a first rate trip, well organised by the leaders in the field to provide a great birding experience in congenial company. Hard to improve on.
This was my first Naturetrek holiday and I can't believe what I've been missing! The siting of the two hotels were perfect...I won't forget waking one night and listening to the bitterns booming and the marsh frogs croacking.
What a great leader Rob Murray is. Enthusiastic, and always helpful and fun to be around. Showed great concern for everyone, that they got to see what they had come for. First Class.
Hard to come up with suggestions that could improve the quality of this holiday.
The holiday was excellent. The sightings of birds were brilliant but the bonding within the group and leaders really made it special. Everyone got on so well together, the two leaders complimented each other with their knowledge. Members of the group also helped with spotting the birds, and ensuring all other members of the group got to see all the birds by sharing their scopes at all times.... I had a a great time and would have been very happy to catch the other coach going to the Pension Unikat (accomodation) to start their holiday.
This is my third Naturetrek holiday and they have all been superb. Obviously a high level of research and preparartion went into the tour and the range of birds we saw was fantastic.
On this holiday the leaders showed a willingness to accept that clients have different degrees of knowledge, commitment, and stamina. I was especially pleased with the calm manner in which they dealt with individuals needs yet still maintained a high level of guidance with regard to the wildlife.
A very enjoyable holiday, the guides worked really hard to find the birds for us.
Very knowledgeable leaders and the local guide made this trip amusing and interesting. I enjoyed the holiday very much…it was extremely well organised and executed…the guides worked very hard indeed to satisfy the groups appetite for seeing as many birds and animals as possible.
Our guides were both excellent and knew exactly where to find the birds within a few minutes of leaving the coach. Lukas is very knowledgeable on Poland and its history and keep us very well informed throughout the journey. The driver was helpful, courteous, smartly dressed and provided us with lots of very welcome hot drinks.
The tour leaders were outstanding...their enthusiasm and knowledge were very much appreciated.
Another very good wildlife trip with Naturetrek, well organised to giver every opportunity to see the unique wildlife of the ancient forests and the river basin in Poland...Our evening view of a lynx sitting on a forest path was magical! We were even completing our full list of woodpeckers in Warsaw just before boarding the flight for home! Our leaders were most impressive and in particular -Peter did everything to enquire our tour was so worthwhile.
The holiday fully lived up to expectations and I found it thoroughly enjoyable.
C. St G.
It really was an excellent holiday, largely thanks to our 2 leaders. You will be hearing from me next year I hope.
Our Polish guide was fantastic. He looked after us superbly.
A. & H.D.
The general organisation of the trip was excellent and we were privileged to see a wild wolf and 4 bison.