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Carpathian Mammals, Oct 2019 (wolves, bears and bison seen!)

Tour Leaders: Peter & Bart
Participants: Sven (CH), Jacoba (AU), Sean (UK)

Text by Bartosz Smyk & Łukasz Mazurek
Photos by Bartosz Smyk

This will be a long trip report so if you can’t be bothered, here is a short comment from one of the participants that describes the trip very well:

…Well, with Piotr and Bart as our guides, we did see a bear (and lots of scats and some spoors), half a dozen or so bison, and one morning, the full pack of fourteen wolves that seemed to be hunting a stag we saw running away a little earlier. We saw four+ wolves of a second pack, and one magical night, two beavers and a family of otters playing. Add to that lots of birds, including many raptors, and it was worth getting up so early and do long treks before breakfast!

 – Cobie, Australia

And here comes the long version if you’re into details:

The trip started as we picked everyone up in Kraków on Saturday morning. The day surprised us with unexpectedly warm temperature, typical for Polish late summer. This kind of weather accompanied us through the whole trip!

The journey from Kraków to our lodge, located in the middle of Polish Eastern Carpathians, lasted five hours. After arriving to Bieszczady Mountains we made the first short walk onto the top of a little hill, with a good view over San river valley, hoping to find more wild mammals. Although we found only a group of domestic horses on pasture, it was nice to have this first view of the surrounding mountains. We moved to our guesthouse for a delicious dinner.

On Sunday we started our trip before dawn. After a short drive we stopped for a while listening to calls of nature. Just after getting out of the car we heard howling of a Wolf pack! There were a few individuals howling from one spot and another single wolf calling from a different place. This amazing sound has woken us up better than a cup of strong coffee! It was still before sunrise when we stopped on top of the hill, with a very good view over surrounding valleys, with many glades on the slopes.

After a short time we spotted two Wolves running through a distant glade! It was just a glimpse and only a part of our group was able to see them. We continued the scanning. The sun was already quit high when the real show begun. At first we saw a Red Fox, hunting rodents at the clearing. Soon after that we saw the largest mammal living in Europe – the European Bison, at first one individual, then a group of five came out of the forest. They slowly walked along the open top of a neighbouring mountain ridge, so we had excellent long views in a scope.

Then, just as we decided to leave, a single Brown Bear came out of the forest. It was an immature male, crossing the bottom of the valley and we had fantastic views in the scope. It was a perfect conclusion of the morning, so we moved to our hotel for a well deserved breakfast.

After the meal and a short rest we began our midday walk along the river, border between Poland and Ukraine. At the start we saw two females of Grey-headed Woodpecker in a small woodland. Then during our lunch break we saw quite an intensive migration of birds of prey. We saw a Sparrowhawk, Goshawk, Kestrel, Hen Harrier, Rough-legged Buzzard and at least eight Common Buzzards.

Late afternoon we went for a final walk of the day and found fresh footprints of Wolves and Bears on our way onto a beautiful vantage point. Not much mammal activity there but on our way back we heard a Pygmy Owl and saw five Red Deer crossing the road in front of our car.

Monday morning we started before dawn again. This time we set off for a forest walk. It was very atmospheric and the silence was mind blowing. We saw two European Hares, two Roe Deer and a single Red Fox. We have also found fresh faeces of Wolf and Brown Bear. Another nice encounter was a single Woodcock flying above the forest.

After breakfast we made a longer rest in order to charge our batteries for the rest of the trip. In the afternoon we left our guesthouse and went for a walk in one of the most remote parta of the Bieszczady mountains. At the start of the walk we saw a Kingfisher and a Great Grey Shrike.

We continued our walk through the grounds of a former Ruthenian village and although the views were stunning, with beautiful sun hiding behind the main ridge of the Carpathians, we didn’t see any large mammals. Then, on the way back, just approaching our minibus we scanned the glade near the parking site for the last time and it turned to be the bull’s eye – we spotted a group of six Wolves! It was almost dark, but we saw them running across the glade and had a very good view of one individual.

On our way back, we stopped by the backwater with a beaver lodge just next to the road and we spotted two Beavers in torchlight as they gathered willow branches. It was a really lucky evening but it wasn’t over yet. In a few minutes time we saw five Otters playing in water, probably a family group. The soundtrack for this late evening observations were Tawny and Ural Owls calling nearby, at the very same time.

Tuesday morning we decided to revisit the glades from our very first morning. Once again we started before dawn. Approaching our viewing point we found a single Carpathian Newt – an amphibian species which is endemic for this mountain range. Waiting for the sunrise we could see a very intensive migration of passerine birds – with dozens of Chaffinches, Bramblings, Linnets, Goldfinches, Greenfinches, Hawfinches, Black Redstarts and Fieldfares flying over the mountains.

Finally we also saw some mammals move. First we  have spotted three male Red Deer on the opposite slope; two of them had even a short fight. Then, suddenly Wolves came out of the forest and we had a long and amazing view of a pack of fourteen Wolves crossing the glade! It was the best Wolf observation ever. We could see the adults and playing immatures. We also noticed that one member of the pack was injured. After a few minutes the pack disappeared in the bushes, but the show was not over yet! After few minutes we saw single male Red Deer, running up the slope. Soon we discovered the reason of his haste. Two wolves begun to outflank their potential prey from the right side; the rest of the pack probably tried to surround the deer from the other side. Although all mammals soon vanished in the dense forest, we were absolutely amazed with performance just seen.

After breakfast and a short rest we started our last afternoon trip in Bieszczady. We had a walk in the forest and found the tracks of mammals – faeces of Wolves and Brown Bears, and also footprints of another Bear. Later we revisited the area of last night and saw some birds – a mixed group of Willow Tits, Marsh Tits, Treecreepers, Nuthatches and Long-tailed Tits. We also heard and finally saw a Black Woodpecker in flight above us.

Since we had to leave Carpathians just after breakfast, we decided to make a final early morning walk just around our guesthouse. It was a relaxing short walk and we saw a Red Squirrel climbing the tree next to the road, a Kingfisher on the opposite bank of the river and a Nutcracker perched up the top of a tree just outside our guesthouse. 

After the walk we enjoyed the hearty breakfast one last time and we started our return journey to Kraków.

Enjoy the photographs!

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