Tour Leader: Bartosz Smyk (Bart)
Participants: Steve & Ruth (UK), Frida & Jens (SE), Erwin (NL)
Text by Bartosz Smyk & Mariola Przyborowska
Photos by Bartosz Smyk
Friday, 12 April
After meeting in Kraków we headed out of the historical city and drove south-east, through the pleasant uplands of Lesser Poland. The dull morning turned into grey afternoon with continuous mixture of rain and sleet, but even in such unfavourable weather conditions we spotted on the way a pair of Common Cranes. About halfway we stopped for lunch at a roadside restaurant, where everyone had a chance to try Polish specialty – “pierogi” – dumplings with various types of stuffing.
We reached our small guest house at the foothills of Eastern Carpathians in good time to settle in and gather again for dinner, and to talk about plans for the weekend. At the dinner time we have met Zenek, the local expert on large predators and experienced wolf tracker. This evening we learnt a lot about Wolves, Bears, Lynx and Wildcats inhabiting this remote and densely forested region. In the coming days Zenek was going to show us the best sites and hidden corners of the Eastern Carpathians, where chances of seeing these elusive mammals were the highest. The weather forecast for coming days was promising, and we already looked forward to our treks in the wild.
Saturday, 13 April
We started well before dawn and drove towards the mountains still in the darkness, awake enough to notice small herd of Red Deer crossing the road in front of our minibus. The dawn welcomed us with fantastic activity of birds, including male Tawny Owl, Woodcock in courtship display and choir of passerine birds with Song Trush, Blackbird, Chiffchaff, and Yellowhammer along with dozens of other species.
We started our trek through the picturesque river valley with vast grasslands and remains of depopulated village, a truly eerie and nostalgic place where old cellars, roadside shrines and feral fruit trees became the only reminders of once thriving human settlement.
For the start we saw 2 Roe Deer. As we continued our trek, we observed from a distance of ca. 100 metres a herd of Red Deer gathering nervously at a small meadow. The unsettled behaviour of animals alerted Zenek. He suddenly pointed towards the bottom of the meadow, where in the thinning fog right behind the herd we spotted 2 wolves!
It wasn’t an easy task to capture the moment in a dim, early morning light, but here is the incredible scene we witnessed…
The herd of Red Deer quickly escaped, while Wolves stayed for another while at the meadow, and observed our group with interest (and likewise!). According to Zenek, both were young, ca. 1 year old individuals. Everyone enjoyed the lengthy observation and had a chance to capture the memorable moment.
After such successful start we continued our trek along the river, spotting on the way tracks of Wolves (most likely of those seen earlier) and observing an impressive male of Golden Eagle, the largest bird of prey inhabiting this part of Eastern Carpathians. Our local specialist has done his best to make our walk both interesting and adventurous 😉
After hearty breakfast and few hours of rest at our guest house, we set off for the afternoon trip. This time the lengthy march with Zenek took us to the mountains with fantastic views over the intensely green valleys. The weather has cleared, and we saw impressive number of birds of prey, at least 6 Common Buzzards, Lesser Spotted Eagle, migrating Osprey and a pair of Golden Eagles. In a mixed beech and spruce forest we found a rare Three Toed Woodpecker and a pair of Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers, while distinctive call of Grey-headed Woodpecker sounded in the background. We finished our intensive day at the vantage point overlooking former village of Ciechania, from where we observed small herds of Roe Deer and Red Deer grazing at neighbouring slopes. And while everyone enjoyed the landscapes and the amazing silence of the dusk, our eagle-eyed local specialist managed to spot from a distance an Ural Owl sitting still at one of the trees. Soon it was time for well deserved rest before another intensive day.
Sunday 14 April
Again we started well before dawn, this time, however, we carried our dawn patrol in a safari-like style, spending more time in the vehicle and stopping at several viewpoints at both sides of Polish-Slovakian border. Although this morning we didn’t succeed with predators, we had a chance to see many herds of Red Deer crossing the grassy slopes. We counted at least 250 animals from one viewpoint! Further on our way we came across a gathering of at least 17 White Storks feeding at a small field. The abundance of wildlife at the borderland was indeed impressive!
At the end of our trip Zenek made sure to show us the remains of Red Deer killed by local pack of wolves. By the way we learnt that the site was located only few hundred metres from Zenek’s house!
After an early morning start some rest at the guest house was most welcome. In the afternoon, after few relaxing hours at our rooms we gathered again, all set and ready for one more trip with Zenek. This time we took a mountain trail leading through the beautiful natural forest to the summit with huge stones overgrown with trees. After lengthy and demanding walk uphill we were looking at the den of Lynx, not a bit surprised that such elusive predator has chosen such place for a safe home.
After short break and recovery at the top, we started our challenging walk down the steep rocky slope covered with old Carpathian beech forest. Sunny weather brought more visitors to the trails therefore the activity of wildlife was low and very discreet, nevertheless Zenek managed to point to us tracks of Wolves, as well as tracks of a single Brown Bear. A quick glimpse at Ural Owl unexpectedly flushing away from the tree and a Yellow-bellied Toad in small puddle at a forest track were our main observations this afternoon. We thanked Zenek for his guidance as it was our last trip together, and we headed to our guest house for well deserved rest.
Monday, 13 April
On our final morning part of the group decided upon short pre-breakfast walk in the close vicinity of the guest house, where in the willow woodlots at the banks of Wisłoka River we observed Hawfinches, male Grey-headed Woodpecker and a single Kingfisher. Shortly before noon we started our return journey to Kraków, this time enjoying beautiful landscapes of Lesser Poland in much better weather than last Friday. Our short but adventurous weekend has passed pretty quickly, but an early morning meeting with two young wolves will be a long lasting memory.
Thank you everyone for fantastic time together!
Below is a small gallery of photos from our trip and a highly appreciated feedback from 2 participants:
– Bart was a great guide. Informative with an incredible bank of knowledge and also helpful and attentive. His enthusiasm for nature inspired.