Bison Safari in the Białowieża Forest, Oct 2019
Tour Leader: Bartosz Smyk (Bart)
Participants: Jo & AJ (AU), Heather & Geoff (AU), Calvin & Sandy (HK)
Text by Bartosz Smyk & Mariola Przyborowska
Photos by Bartosz Smyk
Friday, 4th October
After meeting in Warsaw and ca. 4-hour transfer through the pleasant countryside of Mazowsze and Podlasie regions, we reached the famous Białowieża Forest just before an early dusk. It was a perfect time for a short tour around the village, and for first time look at the local environment. Outside the village, we carefully checked meadows and forest edges in a hopeful search for wild Bison, however, they were nowwhere in sight. Instead, we spotted a single male Roe Deer and a group of Red Deer in charming autumn landscapes. Content with first time sightings, we came back to our atmospheric guesthouse to relax over homemade dinner and to discuss our plans for coming days.
Saturday, 5th October
The next morning we woke up well before dawn. It was still dark when we boarded our minibus. Ca. 40-minute drive took us to the northern part of the Białowieża Forest, where vast meadows serve as popular feeding sites for Bison and other ungulates. For human visitors, the area offers several viewing spots and wooden towers for an undisturbed views of wildlife and we stopped by one of such points. This morning we were more lucky than yesterday – in a slowly brightening daylight we spotted 3 Bison. Although distant, the 3 young bulls were the first representatives of an ancient European megafauna spotted by our group.
When 3 individuals finally disappeared in the forest, we moved further north. Near the Siemianówka village we spotted more Bison – 3 impressive bulls in an open field, feeding on late crops.
This time we could enjoy an undisturbed view from ca. 150 metres, before animals eventually retreated to the safety of the forest. Other observations this morning included few Roe Deer, and colorful passerine birds, Greenfinches, Chaffinches, Goldfinches and Bramblings.
After well deserved breakfast and short rest at the guesthouse, we set off for Teremiski village, our starting point for a long walk through the forest. Soon after we entered forest tracks, we came across fresh scats of Wolves. Few steps further we found another evidence of their recent presence, the ground marked with vigorous scratching. After such promising start we continued our trek, carefully checking the area for any movement and at the same time admiring diverse natural habitats of the primeval woodland.
We trekked for several hours with short break for packed lunch. Seated at fallen trees, overlooking one of the forest glades, we enjoyed fresh air and silence breached time to time by calls of feeding birds. On our way back to Teremiski village part of the group heard the noise of breaking branches and soon they spotted group of five Bisons moving through the forest. It was rather a quick sighting, as animals trotted away and quickly disappeared in the bushes. We reached our minibus pleasantly tired. After all it was a long, intensive day and we already looked forward to dinner and relaxing evening at our guesthouse.
Sunday, 6th October
Today after breakfast we met Joanna, local specialist and licensed guide in the Strictly Protected Area of the Białowieża National Park, the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Before entering the strict reserve we stopped by the famous wooden gate, where Joanna explained to us important historical and geographical facts related to this very special area.
Our walk in the Strictly Protected Area lasted over 3 hours. Joanna shared with us a wealth of information on the Forest, it’s ecology and history of protection. Walking through the reserve met few members of local fauna including 2 Red Squirrels, small group of Red Deer and such interes$ng species of birds as Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Wren and one of the rarest European woodpeckers, White- backed Woodpecker.
We also noticed outstanding variety of shapes and colours of fungis and slime molds, growing on living, dying and decaying trees. Beautiful background of autumn colors added a very special atmosphere to our walk. After leaving the strict reserve we all needed a little warm-up, so we went for hot lunch in a restaurant beautifully situated in the middle of the 19th century Palace Park.
In the afternoon we explored yet another interesting part of the Forest. We passed the alder carr to continue our trek between centuries-old mighty oaks, hornbeams and huge spruces, fresh windthrows, and dead trees in different stadium of decomposition. In such beautiful natural surroundings we spotted Pygmy Owl, the smallest European owl, rare and amazing bird (another individual was calling nearby). We also came across tracks of Bison and more scats of Wolves along the forest trails.
But it wasn’t the end of our Sunday attractions! After dinner we took short walk in the village, along banks of small river Narewka. Equipped with a torch, we searched dark surface of water for Beavers. Soon we spotted three dark silhuettes close to the water edge. The animals were undisturbed by the torchlight and we could observe them as they swam, fed on twigs and groomed their wet shiny fur. When this nocturnal performance came to an end, we came back to our guesthouse for a well deserved rest.
Monday, 7th October
After breakfast we check-out and transferred back to Warsaw, taking on the way the last glimpse at the autumn landscapes of Podlasie and Masovian lowlands. Traditional Polish lunch at famous Warsaw’s Old Town gave us energy for a walk through the colorful cobbled streets of historical district, listed the UNESCO World Heritage site.
Below are few more photos taken by our guide, Bart: