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Bison Safari In The Białowieża Forest, February 2019

Bison Safari in the Białowieża Forest, February 2019

Tour Leader: Bartosz Smyk (Bart)
Participants: Raymond, Claire, Doug (UK), Oriol & Maria (ES), Edoardo & Francesca (IT)

Text by Bartosz Smyk & Mariola Przyborowska
Photos by Bartosz Smyk

The second half of February was relatively mild and snowless across NE Poland, although due to a brief chilly stretch on the 22 February our group was greeted by exceptionally cold and windy weather. Evidently, winter wasn’t giving up yet.

When everyone arrived, we boarded our bus and started ca. 4 hour journey to the Białowieża Forest, driving leisurely through the quiet countryside and spotting in a distance first representatives of Polish wildlife – Common Buzzards and a Red Fox, both species being a common sight in Polish landscape.

After arriving at our hotel we decided to spend the rest of Friday evening in a laid back manner, chatting over dinner and discussing our plans for the coming days.

Elk (Moose) in the Białowieża Forest, winter Bison Safari, photo by Doug Stockdale
Elk (Moose) stole the show on the very first morning, photo by Doug Stockdale

An early morning start on Saturday (5.30 am) presented us with interesting observations of two small groups of Roe Deer and, surprisingly – a female Elk (Moose) with young. An unexpected meeting was the highlight of the morning. We weren’t as lucky with Bison, even though we visited several places where chances of seeing them are usually high. But this time the meadows, fields and favourite feeding sites were empty and Bison were nowwhere in sight. We had to give it another try later, meanwhile we enjoyed our trip in the pleasant landscapes, spotting on the way a group of about dozen Yellowhammers, large flock of Hawfinches, a pair of Common Cranes, and a single Red Fox.

Yellowhammer in the Białowieża Forest, winter Bison Safari, photo by Doug Stockdale
Yellowhammer in the Białowieża Forest, photo by Doug Stockdale

Later in the afternoon we explored two interesting sites in the central part of the Białowieża Forest. First of them, Dębowy Grąd Reserve near Budy village, is a very well preserved natural part of oak-linden-hornbeam forest with admixture of maple, ash and spruce. While there, we observed a pair of Black Woodpeckers and found several trodden paths frequently used by Bison and Red Deer. Afterwards we moved towards villages of Teremiski and Pogorzelce, where once again we entered the forest to follow one of the local tracks. Here we noticed another pair of Black Woodpeckers, and, as the sun was setting down, appreciated fantastic vocal activity of owls – a single male of Pygmy Owl (which we briefly saw in flight) followed by nuptial call of Tawny Owl. One member of the group came across a Pine Marten (an unexpected encounter with agile mustelid was missed by the rest of us). Luckily, on the way back to our lodge, we all had a chance to see a Beaver, well spotted at the bank of Narewka River by our brilliant driver, Jarek. After an intensive day it was time for some well deserved rest and Polish beer.

Diverse habitats of the Białowieża Forest, photo by Bartosz Smyk
Diverse habitats of the Białowieża Forest, photo by Bartosz Smyk

Another early start paid off with nice sighting of ca. 10 Red Deer on a forest track near Budy village. Few minutes later, walking the same track we spotted massive dark silhouettes in the forest – 4 Bison. Partly hidden between the trees, they still looked powerful and majestic. Seeing them as they roam free in their natural habitat, felt both exciting and uplifting. But here comes the hard part – the low morning light made taking photos rather challenging and we ended up with no proper shot of the impressive beasts    Nevertheless, the morning was successful!

Red Deer observing our group, photo by Bartosz Smyk
Red Deer observing our group, photo by Bartosz Smyk

An important part of our Sunday programme was a visit to the Strictly Protected Area of the Białowieża National Park, the Man and Biosphere Reserve, listed the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Few hour walk with our local NP guide, Joanna, took us to the core area of the Primeval Forest, where we learnt about ecological and historical value of this unique site. Apart from impressive trees and tremendous variety of fungi growing on deadwood, we also observed a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, while at the meadows just outside the reserve we noticed a Goshawk, a Common Buzzard, and a Red Fox.

UNESCO site, the remains of impressive Oak blown down by strong wind in 1974, photo by Bartosz Smyk
UNESCO site, the remains of imperssive Oak blown down by strong wind in 1974, photo by Bartosz Smyk

After short break at our lodge we have met again to explore yet another interesting place, the Wysokie Bagno Reserve. The site protects natural spruce bog forest with rare plant species in the herb layer. It encompasses a vast bog and a part of Narewka River’s swampy valley, where we spotted a pair of Goldeneyes. Walking along the Polish- Belarusian border we enjoyed amazing silence, time to time disturbed by noisy flocks of Tits, and a Three- toed Woodpecker foraging on dead Spruce. The final highlight of the day was a picturesque sunset and a thrilling call of male Tawny Owl echoing in a distance.

At Wysokie Bagno Reserve in the Białowieża Forest, photo Bartosz Smyk
At Wysokie Bagno Reserve in the Białowieża Forest, photo Bartosz Smyk

On Monday morning, just before leaving Białowieża, we decided upon short walk around the Palace Park, a pleasant area with ponds and beautiful old trees surrounding our lodge. Activity of birds was fantastic this morning with plentiful Siskins and Hawfinches, small group of Bullfinches and few Middle Spotted Woodpeckers noisily proclaiming their territorial boundaries. The shining sun, singing Starlings and migrating Skylarks indicated than spring is on its way, despite low temperatures and overall chill.

Bright morning and Starlings singing in the Białowieża Palace Park, photo Bartosz Smyk
Bright morning and Starlings singing in the Białowieża Palace Park, photo Bartosz Smyk

We traditionally ended our tour back at Warsaw, with a short walk in the Old Town and tasty lunch at befriended Polish-Jewish restaurant.

Thank you everyone for the most enjoyable time!

Here are few comments from tour participants, and also a small photo gallery:

– Totally enjoyable experience, would definitely go again.
Raymond, UK, February 2019

– Well organised, full itinerary. Extremely knowledgeable and informative guide.
Doug, UK, February 2019

UNESCO Site, Strictly Protected Area Of The Białowieża NP, Winter Bison Safari, Photo By Bartosz Smyk
UNESCO Site, Strictly Protected Area Of The Białowieża NP, Winter Bison Safari, Photo By Bartosz Smyk
UNESCO Site, Strictly Protected Area Of The Białowieża NP, Winter Bison Safari, Photo By Bartosz Smyk
UNESCO Site, Strictly Protected Area Of The Białowieża NP, Winter Bison Safari, Photo By Bartosz Smyk
UNESCO Site, Strictly Protected Area Of The Białowieża NP, Winter Bison Safari, Photo By Bartosz Smyk
UNESCO Site, Strictly Protected Area Of The Białowieża NP, Winter Bison Safari, Photo By Bartosz Smyk
Wildlife Watching In The Białowieża Forest, Winter Bison Safari, Photo Bartosz Smyk
Action! Winter Bison Safari, Photo By Bartosz Smyk
Diverse Habitats Of The Białowieża Forest, Winter Bison Safari, Photo By Bartosz Smyk
At Wysokie Bagno Reserve In The Białowieża Forest, Winter Bison Safari, Photo Bartosz Smyk
Looking For Woodpeckers, Winter Bison Safari, Photo By Bartosz Smyk
At Wysokie Bagno Reserve In The Białowieża Forest, Winter Bison Safari, Photo Bartosz Smyk
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