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Wolf Tracking in the Eastern Carpathians, May 2019

Tour Leaders: Bartosz Smyk (Bart)
Participants: Arno, Marlou, Chris, Ellen, Marco (NL)

Text by Bartosz Smyk and Mariola Przyborowska
Photos by Bartosz Smyk and Zenon Wojtas

Day 1, Friday, 10th of May

By 12:00 o’clock on Friday we were all set and ready for ca. 3 hours journey from Kraków to the foothills of the Eastern Carpathians. Having left the historical city with its amazing Old Town and plentiful monuments, we continued our drive through the pleasant hilly countryside with characteristic for these region small settlements, to finally reach scenic, densely forested Beskidy Mountains, which form a large part of the Polish Eastern Carpathians. On the way we observed from our mini-bus numerous White Storks sitting on their nests, situated in the villages on the top of electric poles along the main road, time to time at the rooftops of farm buildings – a very common sight across Polish countryside.

The transfer went smoothly. Before we knew, our driver already parked the bus beside an impressive, country-style guesthouse hidden in a picturesque valley, while our hosts welcomed us friendly and treated us to a tasty home-made lunch.

inside our guest house in the Eastern Carpathians

We spent the afternoon on exploring the closest neighbourhood of our guesthouse. During the pleasant trek through the forest we searched for tracks of mammals, and surprisingly quickly we found fresh footprints of Brown Bear only about 2 km from our guesthouse! We followed the tracks for about another kilometer thrilled by the fact that the bear was walking this way just few hours earlier. We also found first representative of smaller vertebrates – Yellow-bellied Toad, which sat in a puddle by our path. Finally, on the way back to our guesthouse we stopped by a wooden church (former Orthodox, nowadays Roman Catholic) in a village of Krzywa, a builiding of interesting architecture, beautifully composed into the hilly surroundings.

At a dinner time we met Zenek, the local researcher and a specialist on big predators of the Eastern Carpathians. Equipped with his laptop, Zenek presented to us several short documentaries about Wolves, Lynx, Wildcat and Brown Bear, all recorded locally by him in the course of recent years. After such introduction to the local wildlife we couldn’t wait for the coming days!

Day 2, Saturday, 11th May

In order to increase our chances of spotting large mammals, we woke up well before dawn and took a short drive towards the former village at the outskirts of the national park. Caught in the headlights, few small groups of Red Deer and Roe Deer crossed the road in front of our vehicle. We started our first trek at the banks of river Wisłoka, the wildest part of the Eastern Carpathians. Shortly after we started, Zenek pointed to us fresh footprints and droppings of Wolves, supposing that individuals from a local pack must have walked across the valley few hours earlier.

dusk and dawn are the best times 
 for spotting large mammals

We continued our trek, enjoying in the meantime a sight of an adult Lesser Spotted Eagle, one of the largest avian predators to be found in this area.

Lesser Spotted Eagle, photo by Zenon Wojtas

After the breakfast we took a short rest. The second part of our day started with a local walk in the vicinity of our guesthouse, where we enjoyed a close encounter with a single Viviparous Lizard as well as few Sand Lizards. We also noticed some intensive activity of Beavers – well maintained dam with several trees cut down and distinctive fresh tooth marks on the branches.

the perfect sunny basking spot

Just before dinner we had an interesting observation of Lesser Spotted Eagle hunting frogs at a meadow right in front of our guesthouse. The bird seemed to ignore both, our audience and vicious mobbing by a local breeding colony of Fieldfares.

Lesser Spotted Eagle checking the meadow for frogs

During an evening trip we crossed the border with Slovakia, where for the good start we spotted a single Red Fox. Our aim for the evening was to observe large herds of Red Deer, which tend to visit open spaces for the evening grazing (read: high chances for wolves following the herd), and so we found ourselves hidden in a small patch of bushes in the middle of open grassland, quietly waiting for an unexpected. For a while it looked good. We already saw few groups of Red Deer appearing at the edge of the forest… when we realized we were accompanied at the site by one of the local hunters. Such situation changed our plans. While the cautious Red Deer noticed the human presence and retreated to the safer places, we decided to take a slow drive towards the Polish side of the border, scanning on the way any possible activity of wildlife.

Day 3, Sunday, 12th of May

Following Zenek’s plans for Sunday, we left the guest house again well before dawn, although this time we visited a different area. Walking through the amazing natural Carpathian beech forest, we noticed a Fire Salamander crossing our path. Shortly after seeing this beautifully colored amphibian Zenek heard, and then masterfully spotted an Ural Owl in a dense vegetation. Although the time was still very early and the light was dim, we could take a nice look at this rare, impressive owl. Further on, nearby the viewing point over the valley, we stopped and carefully scanned the edges of open areas in search of mammals. Right there Zenek spotted 2 Wolves, as they crossed the meadow. Even a quick and distant observation – from ca 300 m – made our hearts beat much faster. We were looking at Wolves!

Soon both individuals disappeared in the woods, but our excitement lasted still. Luckily Zenek managed to capture the moment. Here they are, just before they entered the forest:

Wolves at dawn, photo by Zenon Wojtas

This morning brought even more fantastic sights. While the rising sun created beautiful light conditions over the hills, we observed several groups of Red Deer moving across the slopes towards their favorite grazing sites. We saw this impressive stag with large antlers with his small herd following him. It was truly successful beginning of the day!

Red Deer, photo by Zenon Wojtas

After leaving our lucky spot we visited yet another site with a hope for spotting some interesting birds. Just as expected, we saw few new species, including Black Stork, Black Kite and beautifully colored Red-backed Shrikes, before coming back to our guesthouse for a homemade delightful breakfast and well deserved rest.

the remains 
of former villages
 in the Eastern Carpathians

In the afternoon we decided upon another trek in the vicinity of our guesthouse. Hot and sunny weather was very inviting, but certainly not for mammals, which stayed hidden deep in a shady forest. As we walked, we spotted only this handsome Red Fox checking the meadow for a small prey.

Red Fox, not bothered by the hot afternoon sun

After an early dinner we drove to the nearby hills and stopped by a lovely viewing point near Myscowa. The weather rapidly deteriorated, but just before it started raining, we spotted our main target for this evening – a beautiful pair of Golden Eagles. The sight of these majestic birds of prey flying above their territory made a very nice end of the day.

rewarding views at the end of intensive day

Day 4, Monday, 13th of May

Since we had to leave our cozy guesthouse before noon, we decided to wake up early and take one more local walk before breakfast. Despite mist and drizzling rain we came across few interesting sights like tracks of Wolves, another Fire Salamander and few new species of birds, including Black Woodpecker and Firecrest.

beautifully colored Fire Salamander

Shortly after breakfast we started our return drive to Kraków, although it wasn’t the end of our wildlife spotting. Just after leaving our guesthouse we saw beautiful Hoopoe, flying across the road right in front of our car, while during a short stop at Rożnów Reservoir, a man-made lake near Nowy Sącz, we had a chance to observe few species of water birds, i.e. Common Tern, Common Redshank, Northern Lapwing and Great Crested Grebe. A tasty lunch in a traditional Polish country-style restaurant near Kraków airport was a perfect occasion for recalling the best moments of our short, but intensive break.

Thank you guys for a fantastic time together and for your incredible dedication!

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