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European Bison In The Białowieża Forest At Dawn

Białowieża Forest & Biebrza Marshes, June 2022

Tour Leader: Łukasz Mazurek
Participants: Marilyn, Sara and Richard (UK)

Text and photos by Łukasz Mazurek

Day 1

We met in the morning downtown Warszawa at a hotel where Marilyn, Sara and Richard stayed and were soon on the way north-east. We had lunch at a roadside cafe just outside Warszawa, discussed the itinerary and history of Poland on the way so the 3 hrs passed like nothing and we found ourselves at the shores of the Siemianówka Reservoir.

The first bird we saw (and heard) was an obliging Great Reed Warbler singing from the tops of the reeds. We saw some very distant waterfowl, gulls and marsh terns and some small farmland birds like Serin or Common Redstart. Driving through the countryside – woodlands and lush meadows full of wildflowers we have spotted a Black Woodpecker and a Lesser Spotted Eagle, close. At the last stop before reaching our hotel we saw another Lesser Spotted Eagle, some Roe Deer, Cranes, Red-backed Shrikes, Whinchats, Meadow Pipit but the highlight was a Marsh Warbler singing out in the open right in front of the hide we were at. As we stood there, Corncrake was constantly calling from afar and the group asked if it was possible to see it. I replied honestly – it was much too far to respond, and the grasses were too tall.. but everyone insisted that we try so I took my speaker out and played a corncrake call, just to find the one in the meadow responding and coming closer quite quickly. Within a few minutes we had a Corncrake calling right in front of us in the tall grasses, but since we were up at a tall viewing tower we have actually managed to see it a few times as it walked! What a start of the tour!

Watching Corncrake in the Białowieża Forest
Watching Corncrake in the Białowieża Forest

Day 2

We started before breakfast and took a walk in the hotel area. It was beautifully located at the edge of the village and right in front of the small Narewka river with its wet meadows offering plenty of wildlife. It was an amazing morning as within one and a half hours we have had good views of a Great Reed Warbler, Barred and River Warblers, Cuckoos, Red-backed Shrikes, Golden Orioles, Wryneck, Hoopoe, Honey Buzzard, Black Redstarts, Linnets, Greenfinch as well as Roe Deer and a Water Vole on the bank of the river.

After breakfast we took a walk in the forest, one of our favourite trails, and saw some magnificent, centuries old Lime and Oak, Collared Flycatchers, Red-breasted Flycatchers, Wood Warblers, Reed and Sedge Warblers, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Middle Spotted Woodpeckers feeding chicks at a nesthole and a female White-backed Woodpecker drumming.

We had lunch at the grounds of a local cafe and took an afternoon siesta as it was very hot. We finished the day with a few kilometres walk in the forest at dusk hoping to see some mammals and owls. It was very atmospheric with the evening choir of birds, Woodcocks roding and we saw a Red Squirrel and a Bank Vole, as well as a female Pygmy Owl as it flew and perched above us a few times. Then, as it was getting dark, we saw 2 mammals about 1,5 km away that were probably Wolves but we only got a glimpse twice in the scope. The way back was fun, in the dark with moonlight and a few Tawny Owls flying and calling overhead.

Wryneck in the hotel grounds, Białowieża Forest
Wryneck in the hotel grounds, Białowieża Forest

Day 3

Three days into the tour, it was high time to get serious so we woke up at 3 am, had teas and coffees and hopped onto our minibus for a Bison Safari. Watching sunrise over the lush meadows with a fog, dew, Roe and Red Deer, Hares and plenty of farmland birds such as White Storks, Whinchats, Corn Buntings, Yellowhammers, Hoopoe was quite majestic and we were already very satisfied until we saw these three Bison bulls feeding in the meadows. Getting up so early really paid back. We watched these Bison for about half an hour and followed them from a safe distance as they continued grazing and walked back into the forest.

We were back at the hotel well before breakfast so we went back into beds. After the usual hearty breakfast at the restaurant’s patio overlooking the river we were back in the forest for more in-depth exploration. I chose another old woodstand with a good natural characteristics and we enjoyed the magnificent trees, the diversity, amount of dead wood, fallen logs, fungi, wildflowers, insects and birds. We saw a Black Woodpecker very well, another Middle Spotted Woodpecker feeding chicks at a nesthole, several Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Marsh and Crested Tits and a glimpse of a Hazel Grouse twice!

After an afternoon siesta and an early dinner we went for an evening patrol along the edge of the forest and the small forest river valley. We started with the three Bison bulls (different ones) at the meadows just before getting off the minibus. It was a yet another scenic walk through the dense, dark forest with an evening choir of birds and Woodcocks roding. We finished at a small bridge over a stream with two Roe Deer grazing, a River Warbler singing right where it was supposed to be – near a river, and a glimpse of Beaver!

Watching wild Europen Bison at dawn in the Białowieża Forest
Watching wild Europen Bison at dawn in the Białowieża Forest

Day 4

Our last full day in the forest. Our strong group was up early once again and we hit the road before breakfast, this time the Bison Ribs trail winding through a variety of habitats.  We took our time to try and get a good look at the Icterine Warblers singing their heads off at the forest edge. The forest was as usual – magnificent and breathtaking. A well-built and maintained track took us through a tremendous variety of forest habitats with majestic trees, rich forest floor and plenty of birds, most of them busy with feeding their young. We have seen two nests of Great Spotted Woodpeckers with loud chicks, a Middle Spotted Woodpecker and many common flycatchers and warblers. But the best was awaiting us on the way back when we saw a Pine Marten running across the road right in front of the minibus and making an impressive jump over a ditch.

After the usual plentiful breakfast and some good coffee we visited the south-eastern corner of the Siemianówka Reservoir, a well known top birding site. The first birds we saw were the three species of wagtails: White, Blue-headed and a Citrine Wagtail – all of them busy nest-building or catching insects and feeding their young. Whinchats, Stonechats (rare in this part of Poland) and Red-backed Shrikes and Hoopoe were also there. On the other side of the embankment was a different world – herons, egrets, ducks, geese, Black-headed Gulls and three species of marsh terns: Black, White-winged and Whiskered were flying all over the marsh, Marsh Harriers over them and White-tailed Eagles over the Harriers. We have also had an interesting chat with a Polish soldier and an elderly man mowing the grass on the embankment – some of these events will stay long in our memory :)

We took a siesta in the afternoon and continued in the evening with our last forest patrol. We saw more Great Spotted Woodpeckers, heard a Black Woodpecker and some beautiful flowers like Cow-wheat Melampyrum nemorosum or Bastard balm Melittis melisophyllum. Finished the walk with good views of Crested Tits, Firecrests and a Bison seen from the minibus as we drove home.

Photographing Chicken of the Wood fungus in the Białowieża Forest
Photographing Chicken of the Wood fungus in the Białowieża Forest

Day 5

We had a well deserved lie-in today and did not go out before breakfast. It was a long day, though, as we only finished around midnight. But let me write what we did and saw. After breakfast we set off for a transfer to the Biebrza Marshes. We had a few cultural (and ice-cream) stops as the colourful wooden orthodox churches or wooden Ruthenian villages can’t be missed. Then we arrived at the famous Dojlidy fishponds, my local patch from the ’90-ties. We had a few hrs walk there and had amazing views of Great Reed, Savi’s and Marsh Warblers, 4 species of grebes: Great Crested, Red-necked, Black-necked and Little, White-tailed Eagle, Penduline Tit, Rosefinch, Black Terns, Edible and Pool Frogs, Lilypad Whiteface Dragonflies and more.

Next was a substantial lunch at a roadside cafe (we ordered salads to have sth light and received 3 litres bowl full of salad and 500 g of chips – each!) and we were on our way to the hotel in the Biebrza NP. We have briefly stoped at a lake near Knyszyn and saw 3 White-tailed Eagles and arrived at our hotel in Goniądz town early afternoon. After checking in and a siesta we met again in the garden for a short introductory talk about the Biebrza Marshes and our plans for the next days. We could see far into the marsh from the hotel grounds so were disturbed many times by the birds flying over but the most special of all were three Golden Orioles chasing a Jackdaw for quite some time right in front of us.

It was around 6 pm when we were back on the bus for an evening trip in the marshes and a boat trip to watch Beavers. We briefly stopped at Bagno Ławki – one of the best viewing sites over the vast fen and saw a Marsh Harrier, Common Snipes, Cuckoo flying over, We also visited a boardwalk there and heard the first Aquatic Warblers. We had dinner of delicious home made food at a local cafe (Bar u Dany) and were ready for a boat trip just after sunset.

We boarded our boat and within a few minutes the first Beavers showed up swimming in the river. In the next 1,5 hrs we were immersed in the Thrush Nightingales deep song and have seen about 10 Beavers, swimming, coming out to the shore to scent-mark the territory, as well as feeding as close as 1m from the boat! Happy and tired we drove back to the hotel and saw a Tawny Owl and a Hedgehog (Northern White-breasted) on the way.

Beaver in the Biebrza Marshes
Beaver in the Biebrza Marshes

Day 6

This morning we were supposed to not go out before breakfast but we did look out from our balconies and found a bull of Elk browsing in the marsh – what a view!

After breakfast we went off for a drive around the southern basin of Biebrza. We have done over 120 km in the bus and had 9 stops at the best vantage points and a few walks (incl. barefoot through the marsh). The highlights of the day were Marsh Harriers, Hobbies, Montagu’s Harriers, Wood and Green Sandpipers, Redshanks, Black-tailed Godwits, 3 species of Marsh Terns: Black, Whiskered and White-winged at a close distance, Hoopoes, Black Storks, Wryneck, Aquatic Warblers, Red-backed Shrikes, Golden Orioles, Ortolan Buntings. We have also seen another Elk quite close as well as a Racoon Dog crossing the road not far from were we stayed and photographed butterflies.

Butterflies were special on this day as we have seen Camberwell Beauty and a few Clouded Apollos in addition to several other more common species. We finished the day with a view of a few Aquatic Warblers and a pair of Montagu’s Harriers at Bagno Ławki and happily went back for dinner.

Clouded Apollo butterfly on the Wood Cow-wheat Melampyrum nemorosum in the Biebrza Marshes
Clouded Apollo butterfly on the Wood Cow-wheat Melampyrum nemorosum in the Biebrza Marshes

Day 7

Finally, an early start today :) We visited Osowiec boardwalk for 2 hrs before breakfast and have had fantastic views of a few Bluethroats, Rosefinch, Savi’s Warbler, Marsh Harrier, Penduline Tit building a nest, several Cuckoos and a Thrush Nightingale. Many Dragonflies and butterflies were on the wing, too.

After breakfast we had two major walks in the bog birch forest and across the marsh where the highlights were Middle Spotted Woodpeckers at nest, Icterine Warblers, Long-tailed Tits but also beautiful wildflowers and insects like: Jacobs Ladder, Early Marsh Orchids in hundreds, Broad-bodied Chaser, Common Clubtail, Downy Emerald, Banded and Beautiful Demoiselles, Camberwell Beauty, Heath/False Heath Frittilarries, Swallowtail Butterfly as well as mammals like Roe Deer, Red Deer, Hares and Striped Field Mouse.

Bluethroat in the Biebrza Marshes
Bluethroat in the Biebrza Marshes

Day 8

We finished the tour with our last early morning walk – this time in the surroundings of our hotel where the highlights were a few Orioles, a pair of Hobbies chasing Jackdaws, Hoopoe as well as over 30 White Stork (last year young) circling over the hotel. It was nice to say goodbye to this beautiful area this way.

After our last hearty bufet breakfast and good coffee we backed the bags and were back in Warsaw Old Town for lunch at a small Polish restaurant that concluded the tour.

A few more photographs from this week:

Marsh Warbler In The Białowieża Forest
Barred Warbler In The Białowieża Forest
Red Squirrel In The Białowieża Forest
Red-breasted Flycatcher In The Białowieża Forest
Pygmy Owl In The Białowieża Forest
Sunrise In The Białowieża Forest
Hoopoe In The Białowieża Forest
European Bison In The Białowieża Forest
European Bison In The Białowieża Forest
Red-banded Polypores In The Białowieża Forest
Common Frog In The Białowieża Forest
Middle Spotted Woodpecker In The Białowieża Forest
Wolf Tracks In The Białowieża Forest
Citrine Wagtail In The Siemianówka Reservoir
Great Reed Warbler In The Dojlidy Fishponds
Black-necked Grebes In The Dojlidy Fishponds
Lilypad Whiteface In The Dojlidy Fishponds
Red-necked Grebe In The Dojlidy Fishponds
Beaver Safari Boat Cruise In The Biebrza Marshes
European Beaver In The Biebrza Marshes
Elk (Moose) In The Biebrza Marshes
Black Stork In The Biebrza Marshes
Great White Egret In The Biebrza Marshes
Vantage Point In The Biebrza Marshes
Aquatic Warbler In The Biebrza Marshes
Savi's Warbler In The Biebrza Marshes
Marsh Harrier In The Biebrza Marshes
In The Bog Birch Forest In The Biebrza Marshes
Water Violets In The Biebrza Marshes
Broad-bodied Chaser In The Biebrza Marshes
Jacob's Ladder In The Biebrza Marshes
Early Marsh Orchids In The Biebrza Marshes
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