Tour Leader: Marta Świtała
Participants: Heather & Peter (UK), Joseph & Mala (US)
Text by Marta Świtała & Mariola Przyborowska
Photos by Marta Świtała
Ca. 4-hour transfer from Warsaw to the Białowieża Forest gave us a great opportunity of observing typical Polish landscape, the pleasant mosaic of agricultural lands, meadows, and managed state forests (mainly Scots Pine stands). Only at the end of our journey we noticed the striking difference in the surroundings. Having passed the Hajnówka city, we drove straight onto the road cutting through the natural forest with trees of different types and ages, with many of them dead and fallen. The road led for some 20 kms through the shady forest and straight into the Bialowieża village, a small isle of civilisation encircled by the last European primeval woodland.
We wasted no time. Shortly after check-in and traditional polish dinner at our hotel we were out again, carefully checking the forest and meadows at the outskirts of the village for bison and other possible wildlife. We saw no bison; instead we enjoyed a pleasant walk across the meadow with calls of tireless Corncrakes and Quails along with buzzing sounds of Grasshoppers and Green Bush-crickets in the background (what a heady mix!). Before coming back to the hotel we also spotted a Hedgehog.
The following morning was pretty successful and we saw our first Bison. Although it wasn’t easy to get up at dawn, the sight of five bulls grazing at the meadow in the morning mist was more than rewarding. While two of them were really close, we spent over an hour admiring these magnificent animals and taking dozens of photos. Eventually the mists have cleared away and the morning sun lighted up the meadow. The bulls slowly retreated to the forest leaving us in the company of calling Skylarks and Scarlet Rosefinch.
After breakfast, already relaxed and satisfied with the successful morning, we visited one of the most interesting trails in the Białowieża Forest, Wysokie Bagno Nature Reserve. During leisurely walk through the Spruce and Alder forests we made countless stops for birds (i.e. sand bathing juvenile Great-spotted Woodpecker), butterflies (Purple Emperor, Silver-washed Frittilary), dragonflies (Brilliant Emerald, Beautiful and Banded Demoiselles, Large Red Damsel, Blue Chaser), beetles and wild flowers. The highlight was an Adder, which we noticed on a sunny patch, although it swiftly escaped and hid away from our attention.
After yet another hearty dinner back at the hotel we set off again for an evening Bison patrol. This time we drove a little longer distance and checked the north part of the Białowieża Forest, which appears to be preferred by larger herds of bison. We carefully scanned several meadows, fields and clearings noticing Red Deer, Roe Deer and Brown Hare, but we didn’t see any bison-like silhouettes. It was time to come back to the hotel and catch up with well deserved sleep.
Sunday was extremely hot. It was a perfect day for a visit in the Strictly Protected Area of the Białowieża National Park. While there, our local NP guide Ewa gave us a wonderful lecture on forest ecology and explained to us why this very last unscathed bit of the natural forest is so unique. We were lucky to observe the Black, Middle-Spotted and Great Woodpecker, as well as a fledgling of a rare Three-toed Woodpecker while it was being fed by one of the parents.
During 3 hour walk we came across three dead Moles, a mystery we tried to solve while we walked the shady trail in the most precious part of the Białowieża Forest.
After yet another lovely lunch and few leisurely hours at the hotel we decided upon visiting few more interesting sites around the Białowieża Forest. We walked between huge ancient Oaks, then stopped at the flooded Alder forest with Grey Headed Woodpecker, Green Sanpiper, Brown Frogs and plenty of wild flowers.
At dusk we watched again 3 Bison bulls grazing peacefully at the meadow at the outskirts of the village. It was our last evening in the Białowieża Forest and the last opportunity to admire these amazing animals.
Our short tour ended the following day in Warsaw, after visit at the Old Town and traditional lunch in the small restaurant. A very pleasant farewell indeed!
Here are the comments from tour participants, which we greatly appreciate:
– Marta’s detailed knowledge and enthusiasm rally made the trip special, as did birds and mammals we saw!
– Nothing was forced upon us and it was tailored towards what we liked (bird watching for us). Seeing Bisons at dawn was a wonderful experience!
Please enjoy a few more photos from our tour: