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Carpathian Mammals – Oct 2021 (Wolves seen!)

Tour Leader: Piotr Dębowski (Peter)
Participants: Catherine, Colin, Stephen (UK), Ronny (CH), Annik & Rinke (NL)

Text by Piotr Dębowski & Mariola Przyborowska
Photos by Piotr Dębowski

Day 1, Sunday 17th Oct 

Sunday morning in Kraków was unusually busy with marathon taking place at 11:00. Despite streets closures and detours around the city centre, we swiftly managed  to collect participants from their hotels and John Paul II airport. Shortly after 11:00 we left the city and joined light traffic on the S4 expressway towards Rzeszów. It took ca. 6 hours for nearly 300 km journey to get us to our destination in Bieszczady Mountains. Lunch break on the way, small talk on the bus and changing landscapes we drove through made the time pass quickly. Before we reached our hotel in Lutowiska village, we stopped at one of the nearby clearings and used last minutes of daylight for a quick check, if there are any mammals in sight – we spotted two Roe Deer and found several Wolf tracks. After dinner and short introduction to the area over a map, we discussed plans for coming days. The rest of the evening was free, so everyone could get comfortable in their hotel rooms.

Landscapes of Bieszczady Mountains

Day 2, Monday 18th Oct

We left the hotel when it was still dark and made our way towards the mountains. We mostly aimed for the wild European Bison, as at this time of year the animals form large herds and feed in the open areas near the dense forest line. We picked one of the promising clearings, where such herds are regularly spotted. Ca. 30-minute walk from the car park started with a flat part with an old abandoned orchards at one side, and meandering San River at another. The valley of San River is an important feature of Bieszczady landscape – it’s being used as a natural corridor by mammals living in this vast mountain range. After a quick march uphill to the vantage point we set up the scope and began careful observation of the surrounding hills and meadows. The weather was favourable, quite warm, no wind. Picturesque sunrise coloured the sky intensely pink. We quickly spotted several Bison, a single bull walking across the clearing and a small herd of cows with calves further in the distance. For a moment we observed 2 Red Deer stags and 3 Roe Deer, that emerged from the forest. We noticed an intensive migration of passerines: Chaffinch, Brambling, Meadow Pipit, Dunnock, Robbin, Song Thrush – to name but a few.

Wild European bison in the Bieszczady Mountains, photo by Stephen Richmond

After a hearty breakfast and short break at the hotel we set off for a trip in another direction, but also in the San valley area. It was a lengthy and pleasant walk along the gently rolling grassy hills and views on naturally meandering San River. Vast and desolate landscapes were impressive. The river is a natural border between Poland and Ukraine and takes its beginning nearby, on the Ukrainian side. Several points on the way remind about human presence in the past – an old roadside crosses, neat rows of willows, an abandoned orchards. Nowadays only wildlife (and tourists) wander the remaining trails. The area is regularly visited by a local pack of wolves. Today we observed several Red Foxes hunting in the open clearings. The afternoon passed peacefully. We enjoyed the sunset over the hills before returning to our bus. After intensive day we deserved a hearty dinner and a good rest.

River San

Day 3, Tuesday 19th Oct

Today we could stay in bed a little longer. According to the forecast the morning was foggy, so we took our time. After breakfast, equipped with packed lunches, we set off for a day trip to the mountains, aiming for an extensive clearings surrounded with forested hills, a perfect area for spotting larger and smaller mammals in the open. The fog has cleared away and the weather was beautiful, with little wind. All slopes and meadows in the valleys were picturesquely lit by sunlight. Before we reached the vantage point, we made our way through the thickets, mature beech forests, and few stony streams coming across plentiful tracks of Wolves, Red Deer, Foxes, and a fresh footprint of Brown Bear. Particularly interesting was Squirrel with black fur, common in this part of Poland.

Trails of Bieszczady Mountains

After reaching the vantage point we made ourselves comfortable and prepared for a lengthy observations. From the hilltop we had a perfect view of the surrounding area. It was an amazing few hours of nature contemplation, hearing calls of migrating Cranes and drumming of Black and White-backed Woodpeckers, feeling the wind, admiring stillness of the landscape…

Waiting for wolves in the Bieszczady Mountains
Waiting for wolves in the Bieszczady Mountains

From the distance we observed several Roe DeerRed Foxes… and the a lone Wolf crossing the clearing ;-)

Wolf in the Bieszczady Mountains, photo by Stephen Richmond
Wolf in the Bieszczady Mountains, photo by Stephen Richmond

It was already dark, when we came back to the bus. 45-minute walk after dusk was quite interesting experience, as we expected seeing and hearing some of the nocturnal mammals or birds somewhere around us. So far, we spotted the European Polecat and observed it for a while in a torchlight. After long and interesting trip we came back to our hotel for a dinner and summary of the day.

Day 4, Wednesday 20th Oct

On our last full day in the Carpathians we were up before dawn and drove towards the national park before it actually got bright. It was cloudy and windy when we walked towards the chosen vantage point with undisturbed views over the surrounding meadows and forest edges of the Bieszczady National Park. The surrounding area was empty, so any movement could not go unnoticed. At first, our attention was drawn to the 2 Roe Deer that seemed alerted by something and after few minutes Annik noticed a Wolf crossing one of the mowed clearings. We observed from the distance as he jumped on the hay bale for a better view of the area. When he left the spot we tried to get closer, but he disappeared as swiftly as he emerged at the hill. Anyway, two wolves seen in just two days, not bad!

Wolf in the Bieszczady Mountains, photo by Annik Janssens
Wolf in the Bieszczady Mountains, photo by Annik Janssens

We spent the second part of the day visiting bog nature reserve along the Polish-Ukrainian border. Apart from interesting natural habitats – well-developed raised bog with many species of mosses and few patches of bog spruce forest, we enjoyed beautiful peaceful landscapes. Like in many places in this part of Bieszczady, after the WWII once existing here villages were destroyed and local inhabitants displaced in an operation “Vistula”, carried out by Polish communist authorities. Nowadays on the former sites of the villages only ancient lindens, few old graveyards and roadside crosses remind about the past. We visited one of such graveyards with historical tombs before transferring back to the hotel. The afternoon observations included few hunting Foxes and fresh scats of Brown Bear. Probably strong wind made most of mammals and birds seek quieter places deeper in the forest.

A perfect camouflage ;-)

Day 5, Thursday 21st October

Today we took a last chance for the morning patrol in the mountains. Again we were up before dawn to visit an extensive meadows and hills in search of Carpathian mammals. In the first light of windy morning we observed a herd of Bison.
On the way back to Kraków we made a quick stop at the famous Ursa Maior Craft Beer Manufacture. Regional beer, sweets and crafts of local artists were a nice accent at the end of our time in the Bieszczady Mountains!

Here is a small photo gallery from our time out in the wild:

Waiting For Wolves In The Bieszczady Mountains
Wild Poland Group In The Bieszczady Mountains
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