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Carpathian Mammals, Sep 2020

Carpathian Mammals, Sep 2020

Tour Leader: Piotr Dębowski (Peter)
Participants: Holger & Andrea, DE

Text by Piotr Dębowski & Mariola Przyborowska
Photos by Piotr Dębowski

Day 1 – Tuesday, 22nd of September

We start our trip late in the afternoon in Muczne, a tiny isolated settlement in the rural Bieszczady Mountains. We meet Andrea and Holger directly at the guesthouse. After short introduction and a traditional Polish dinner in a nearby restaurant, we discuss our plans for the coming days over a map and a pint of locally brewed beer.

cozy interior of the local restaurant in Muczne, Bieszczady Mountains

Day 2 – Wednesday, 23rd of September 

We get up before dawn. Our aim for this morning in the first place is a local population of European Bison. At this time of the year they gather in large herds to graze in the open areas on the mountain slopes. Still in the dark, we board our minibus and make our way towards the area, where one of the herds is regularly spotted. On the way we stop several times to listen to the sounds of the forest, hoping for howling wolves or crossing bear, but with no result this time. We park our bus and continue the rest of the way marching energetically uphill to reach the vantage point. It’s getting bright. We set up the scope and carefully observe the area for any possible movement. An important element of the landscape is the nearby San River valley, which is a natural corridor for mammals living in the extensive forests of the Bieszczady Mountains. The chances for spotting wildlife here are very high. This time we locate a single bull grazing in the valley. We wait, but there are no more bison in sight. Instead we observe Roe Deer and 2 Red Foxes hunting voles at one of the slopes. Passerine birds migrate intensely, mostly Meadow Pipit, Robin, and several songbirds. After an hour or so we come back to Muczne, as it’s time for breakfast and a little break before awaiting us long trek in the valley of San River.

sunny morning in Bieszczady Mountains, Eastern Carpathians

Our second trip starts in the Dźwiniacz Nature Reserve near Tarnawa Niżna. Covering the area of ca. 11 ha, the reserve protects a rise bog. The unique feature here are the patches of the swamp coniferous forest with dominant spruce. During our trek we admire beautiful hilly landscapes of the Polish-Ukrainian borderland, where River San is a natural border. On the way we find footprints and droppings of wolves and some old droppings indicating the presence of bears. As we come close to the San river, we locate a large beaver lodge with fresh traces of beavers activity. Buzzards fly over our heads. On the way back, near the watercourse, we come across this female Grass Snake:

Grass snake in Bieszczady Mountains, Eastern Carpathians

After leaving the reserve, we head west towards the ghost village of Beniowa and the Bukowiec range. So quiet and eerie at present, this area bears a dramatic history of armed conflicts and displacements of a local population. Today we are surrounded by nature with only few remnants of the past – roadside crosses, willows growing in rows along an old tracks or deserted orchards. We try several vantage points that allow us an undisturbed view of surrounding us grassy hills. Apparently, we are not the only ones in the area. The pleasant weather attracts lots of noisy tourists, therefore chances for seeing large mammals are slim. On the way back to the hotel, we notice another hunting Fox near the road. It’s been a long and intensive day, so after dinner we come back straight to our guesthouse. 

at the Sun River in Bieszczady Mountains, Eastern Carpathians

Day 3 – Thursday, 24th of September

Another early morning wake up and we are on the way to yet another promising area of the Bieszczady Mountains. Barely awaken, we concentrate our attention on the road in front of us (anything can cross it at any time). It is still dark, but in the headlights of our minibus we spot a Weasel and a Gray Hare. We park the vehicle and continue on foot along the San River, closely observing its banks. For a moment we hear an unexpected noise, something large and heavy quickly moves away into a dense bushes nearby, and we guess it is a Red Deer stag. We leave the river behind and after 40 minutes of intensive trek uphill we reach the hilltop with impressive view over a vast clearing. We patiently wait. We notice 3 Roe Deer, a hunting Fox and a young Red Deer stag. A promising start, but then we see a tourist with two noisy dogs walking right through the clearing… Apparently, sunny days attracted many Polish visitors to the wilderness. Such not obvious places are usually empty and very quiet off season, but 2020 changed mindset of many travellers, who seek escape from claustrophobic covid-affected cities. The noisy party spoils our plans for the morning and we decide to retreat. On the way back we pay attention to great vocal activity of birds: drumming of Black and White-backed Woodpeckers, calls of several tits, Nuthatch and Forest Creeper.

tracks of bear in Bieszczady Mountains, Eastern Carpathians

After breakfast at the guesthouse everyone enjoys some free time. Later in the afternoon we explore the area of Dydiowa, a range with old beech and fir stands. Apart from pleasant views we contemplate Yellow-bellied Toads in small ponds, recognise calls of Black Woodpecker and Nutcracker, and bump into a Hazel Grouse, that quickly runs away. Before dinner we visit the hills around Tarnawa, recording 7 grazing Roe Deer and 3 hunting Foxes. After relaxing evening over dinner and pint, we discuss or plans for Friday.

Yellow-bellied Toad in the Bieszczady Mountains, Eastern Carpathians

Day 4 – Friday, 25th of September

Again we wake up before dawn. After short drive we park our vehicle and enter the territory of wolves. Eyes and ears open, we walk through the national park with fantastic views over hills lined up with dark forest. We pick a convenient place from where we can observe surrounding meadows. In a distance observe a group of Roe Deer and 2 young Red Deer stags. In the morning silence we hear many species of birds on migration, mostly Robin and tits. After some time of total silence and stillness Holger notices 2 Stoats. Time passes and we are about to leave, when one last look over surrounding area makes us frozen in place. There is some movement at the verge of the forest, and suddenly we see a wolf emerging, then another one, and few more following them. We are so excited, a pack of wolves is out there, ca. 300 metres from us! An alpha pair and five young individuals stop at the meadow. For over an hour we observe them in the scope, as the young ones play around and an alpha male observes the area. We stay there until wolves finally move away. In good spirits, we come back to our guesthouse for a hearty breakfast.

in the eye of the scope - a pack of wolves in Bieszczady Mountains

After lunch we set off for yet another interesting trip to the national park. We pick the trail  with plentiful tracks of Wolves, Bears, Roe Deer, Red Deer and Foxes. On the way we spot 2 Adders. The trek is long and demanding, but the landscapes are worth the efforts. By the end of the evening we see a single Bison, an old bull, grazing peacefully at one of the meadows, as well as a herd of 36 Bison with this year’s calves at a small clearing. A long awaited view!

wild bison herd in Bieszczady Mountains, Eastern Carpathians

Day 5 – Saturday, 26th of September

Our last full day in Bieszczady Mountains. Before breakfast we visit again the territory of wolves. No wolves today, instead we observe Roe Deer and a single Fox. After breakfast the weather changes. It starts raining, nevertheless we decide upon returning to the San River valley for a lengthy hike to the ghost village of Sokoliki. On the way we admire the beautiful dome of the Orthodox Church on the Ukrainian side of the river. Wet weather attracts plentiful amphibians: Common Toads, Common Frogs and a young Carpathian Newts. We change the area and transfer to one of the foot of the nearby hills. The rain is heavy now, still we decide for a trek. Pretty quickly we come across a very fresh droppings of Bear, also the Wolf tracks are plentiful here. Apparently, the previously seen pack of wolves crossed our way. What an interesting day! We go back to our guesthouse to change wet clothes and warm up over hearty dinner. 

fresh droppings of bear in Bieszczady Mountains, Eastern Carpathians

Day 6 – Sunday, 27th of September

Our tour ends today. Andrea and Holger leave the guesthouse early in the morning. Visit in Bieszczady Mountains is just a part of their journey through Poland, and we hope it is a memorable part.

Thank you so much guys! We hope to see you again 🙂

Peter & Wild Poland Team

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