Club Holiday to North-east Poland 3 – 11 May – Leader William Earp

A comprehensive 44 page report can be found at – Full Trip Report

This much postponed trip, originally scheduled for 2020, finally took place this year. Seven Club members, plus a welcome addition from the North-east Norfolk Bird Club, were met by eminent Polish naturalist and conservationist Marek Borkowski at Warsaw Chopin Airport, and immediately taken to a park close by where the first birds seen were a pair of Syrian Woodpeckers, followed by a Short-toed Treecreeper as we were enjoying a reviving picnic.
From the town of Rajgrod, our base for the first five nights, we were taken to various sites in the Biebrza Marshes, starting with Marek’s ‘garden’. Readers might remember Marek describing its special delights when he gave a talk to the Club in 2017. Highlights of this part of the trip included White-backed and Grey-headed Woodpeckers, Great Reed and Savi’s Warblers, a pair of Little Crakes, Pygmy and Tengmalm’s Owls. Thrush Nightingales were everywhere though hard to see. Hawfinch and Red Squirrel were regular visitors to Marek’s bird table. A pretty village held a pair of singing Wryneck with Ortolan Bunting on telegraph wires not far away. Raptors included White-tailed and Lesser Spotted Eagles – oh, and a Greater Spotted Eagle as bonus. Stretches of marshes and waterlogged meadows were patrolled by Whiskered, White-winged Black and Black Terns while on the ground were large, loose flocks of Wood Sandpiper and Ruff, the jousting males in their full breeding finery looking just like the illustration in the Collins Field Guide. We spent some time trying, and eventually succeeding, to get to see the super-rare Aquatic Warbler which breeds in boggy meadows in this part of the world – it is Europe’s most rapidly declining warbler. It also sings mainly in the evening. Best of all, we felt, was a night-time excursion to view the other regional speciality, Great Snipe, at its lek. We were privileged to get extended views by torchlight of this remarkable performance as we played a version of ‘Grandmother’s Footsteps’, creeping up to get ever closer to the birds.
In the Bialowieza Forest we stayed in a memorable place, a railway station built originally for the Tsar of Russia and now lovingly restored and converted into a bijou hotel. It’s as close as you can get to the border with Belarus. Hard to convey what it is like: the nearest local equivalent, perhaps, might be the SS Great Britain. The surrounding trees had Golden Oriole and Scarlet Rosefinch. In the Forest we managed Middle Spotted and Three-toed Woodpeckers and a singing Barred Warbler. Collared Flycatchers were quite frequent. We tried to entice some of the Corncrakes which we were hearing to come out and show themselves: Marek’s party trick is Corncrake-wrangling, but on this occasion though one came right up to the roadside verge within a few metres of us it did not emerge for us to actually see it. Bialowieza is celebrated for its mammals, and we were lucky to have an extended close view of two young male Bison. We also had a superb night-time cruise on the Narew River for Beavers feeding on the banks at a few metres range; it was enchanting to see a kit dragging a leafy branch away from its long-suffering mother. Marek’s is very much a family enterprise: his son Andrzej acted as a driver for the first part of the trip, while his partner Hania is the lynch-pin of the team – in addition to supplying picnics for the whole party and hosting us for several meals, she lugged the scope around and regularly demonstrated that she has the sharpest eyes and ears. Her final tour-de-force was to find our last good bird, a male Red-breasted Flycatcher which had frustrated us for a considerable period on our concluding morning. Marek had already set out to return to the vehicle when she located it singing on top of a spruce in full sunlight, and it stayed there to allow everyone to soak it up through the scopes.
A full account of the trip, 05.00 starts and all, accompanied by photos, will appear as an attachment to the digital version of Bird News, hopefully next month. Anyone wishing to get further information about the tours run by Marek is welcome to contact me. He also has a regular stand at the Global Birdfair (in July). William Earp ()