Tour Leader: Piotr Dębowski
Participants: Prue and Nick (UK), Nathalie and Alastair (MT), Katinka (NL), John (UK)
Text by Piotr Dębowski & Mariola Przyborowska
Photos by Piotr Dębowski
After meeting Katinka at the aiport and collecting the rest of the group from their hotels in a city centre, we hit the road heading east, towards the border with Belarus. When we arrived at our guesthouse in Białowieża, it was already time for dinner. Having eaten home-made traditional supper, we spent the rest of our evening in front of a cosy fireplace, talking over a map and making plans for coming days.
Over the next three days we focused on exploring the Białowieża Forest in search of large mammals. Starting our daily wildlife patrols early in the morning to make the most of short daylight hours, we visited plenty of interesting sites around Białowieża. It was a perfect time for tracking wolves in the snow (plenty of fresh footprints!), as well as observing small groups of Red Deer and Roe Deer bounding across the wintry fields, and herds of European Bison gathering around haystacks prepared for them by NP employees. However, the most rewarding moment was spotting 4 impressive Bison Bulls resting in the forest. Here is one the them, we had plenty of time for making photos and enjoying the scene.
Another highlight was a visit to the Strict Protection Area of the National Park, an exceptional experience in terms of important facts about forest ecology we have learnt from our local NP guide, as well as fascinating winter scenery, great for spotting birds (Three-toed and Middle-Spotted Woodpeckers, and colorful Crossbills).
Actually, the list of rare birds we have seen during our stay in Białowieża is much longer, and it is worth to mention that we also observed White-tailed Eagle, and a Pygmy Owl, the latter one from a close distance and posing nicely for pictures, which gave us a real thrill! It was a perfect end to our stay in Białowieża, as the following morning we were transfering to the Biebrza Marshes in order to continue our tour in yet another unique destination.
On the following morning we set out on a journey north, to the Biebrza Marshes. Ca. 3 hours drive brought us to the land of vast wetlands, peat bogs and bog forests, now mostly covered with snow. Our very first walk in the area shown us fresh signs of Beavers activity at the bank of the river (characteristically gnawed tree trunks), a promising hint for coming days. Finally, early in the evening we reached Dwór Dobarz, our cosy wooden lodge conviniently located near the border with the National Park. After a long intensive day out we all needed a hearty dinner to warm us up, so hot soup followed by potato and beef casserole perfectly suited our expectations.
We had two full days ahead to explore the winter marshes. Here is our restless group aiming to spot Beavers and Otters at the frozen bank of the river:
We started with lengthy walk in the famous Red Bog Reserve, where our local guide, Zbyszek, shared with us his expert knowledge on the unique habitats protected within the reserve. It was easy to spot many animals tracks imprinted in the snow and the paths they were following. The Reserve serves as a place of refuge for large mammals, and while walking through the forest and a frozen bog, we observed Elk, Red Deer, Roe Deer and Wild Boar. It was a very successful day with great number of animals spotted.
Our last day at the marshes brought few exciting sightings, including a single Beaver at the bank of Narew River, a pair of White-tailed Eagles, and a very close encounter of 3 Elks (Moose) feeding next to the Tsarska Road, not far away from our lodge. Apparently this young Elk wasn’t distburbed a bit by the sight of our minibus:
Before leaving the Biebrza Marshes, we took a short farewell walk along the wooden path leading far into the raised bog (Długa Luka). The stillness and silence of the marshes was astounding and full of winter charm. 2 Rough-legged Buzzards circling over marshland were the last (and highly appreciated!) sighting on our tour.
We came back to Warsaw, where we took a short walk through the narrow streets of the Old Town. Traditional lunch in a small atmospheric restaurant afterwards was a very pleasant finish of our tour.
Please enjoy few more photographs below: