5 October 2015

Poland highlights: 26 September - 3 October

Rachel and I have spent the last week in north-east Poland, visiting the ancient Białowieża Forest for a few days before heading further north to the Biebrza Marshes - one of the largest lowland wetlands remaining in Europe. Most the birds that these two localities are best known for are summer visitors and had already departed south for the winter, but this wasn't a birding trip and we spent most days hiking and exploring the ecosystems. We saw some interesting visible bird migration, and we were visiting at the prime time for fungi and found lots of beautiful and bizarre looking species. Separate blog posts on both to follow, but in the meantime here's a few of the trip highlights.

Białowieża Forest: 26 - 30 September


The undoubted highlight of the whole trip was a close encounter with a bull European Bison just before dusk on 29 September, watched feeding in the forest just 15 metres away along the Worobiowa Glade trail before crossing the trail in front of us, at which point it became aware of our presence and paused for several minutes trying to check us out before running off into the forest (and disappearing surprisingly quickly for such a large animal).

Bull European Bison Bison bonasus, Worobiowa Glade trail, Białowieża Forest, 29 September. European Bison became extinct in
Poland in 1919 and extinct in the wild in 1927, mainly due to hunting. Just 54 remained in captivity, but a successful breeding programme
allowed them to be reintroduced at Białowieża in 1952. With around 2,300 now in the wild in nine countries (and approximately 800 in
Białowieża Forest), European Bison is now categorised at Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.

Bull European Bison Bison bonasus, Worobiowa Glade trail, Białowieża Forest, 29 September

Other mammals seen include 1 Red Fox at Kosy Most Bridge on 28 September, 1 Red Squirrel along the Worobiowa Glade trail on 29 September, and 3 (1 stag, 2 female) Red Deer and 1-2 Roe Deer on the Bondówka trail near Teremiski on 29 September. Driving the nearby roads after dark looking for mammals produced 2 (1 ad with a juv) Wild Boar along the Białowieża to Narewka road near Kosy Most road junction on 28 September, 2f Red Deer near Pogorzelce on 28 September and another 2f Red Deer along the 689 near Batory Mount on 28 September.

Avian highlights were thin on the ground due to the time of year. 1 Middle Spotted Woodpecker at the car park on the Białowieża to Narewka road just south of the junction with the Narewkowska Road on 28 September, 4 Hawfinch and a Great Spotted Woodpecker at Kosy Most Bridge on 28 September, and an immature White-tailed Eagle over the end of the Browska Droga trail on 30 September near the Belarus border were the most notable.

Good to see some 'northern' races of common species including 1 chunky male (northern) Eurasian Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula pyrrhula (with quite a different 'trumpet-like' call compared to the European P. p. europoea) with a large flock of Long-tailed Tits of the nominate Aegithalos caudatus caudatus at Kosy Most Bridge on 28 September.

Long-tailed Tit, Kosy Most Bridge, 28 September

Biebrza Marshes: 30 September - 3 October


Mammal sightings include 2 European Badger and 2 Red Fox beside the Czar's Road (Carska Droga) between Osowiec Twierdza and Dobarz at night on 30 September, 2 very distant Elk (Moose) from the observation tower at Bialy Grad near the village of Mścichy on 1 October, 1 Red Fox at Grzedy on 2 October, 1f Red Deer and a superb stag Roe Deer just north of Grzedy on 2 October, 1 European Badger that ran out into the road in front of the car along the Carska Droga north of Goniadz on 2 October, 1 Red Squirrel and 1 Red Fox along the Czar's Road (Carska Droga) between Osowiec Twierdza and Grobla Honczarowska on 3 October, and 1 Wild Boar and 1 Red Squirrel along the trail at Grobla Honczarowska on 3 October.

Biebrza provided the only two lifers for me on this trip - a White-backed Woodpecker at Brzeziny Kapickie on the trail to Kapice on 2 October, and 1 Grey-headed Woodpecker along the trail at Grobla Honczarowska on 3 October - neither cooperating for the camera. Other notables include 1-2 ad. White-tailed Eagle over Brzeziny Kapickie on 2 October, 2 Hawfinch at Brzeziny Kapickie on 2 October, and a Black Woodpecker over the road east of Osowiec on 2nd October.

Record of White-backed Woodpecker, Brzeziny Kapickie, 2 October,

Grass Snakes were common. Many were seen along the Czar's Road (Carska Droga) between Osowiec Twierdza and Laskowiec 2 and 3 October, some of which had been killed by traffic. Managed to save one adult that almost got squashed by a car. Also found a nice juvenile on the track just north of Wólka Piaseczna on 2 October.

Juvenile Grass Snake Natrix natrix, Wólka Piaseczna, 2 October. This individual was being very aggressive - mock striking and
flattening its neck to display the yellow patches.

Grass Snake Natrix natrix, Czar's Road, 2 October

Grass Snake Natrix natrix, Czar's Road, 2 October, playing dead after I saved it from death

Also, plenty of Clouded Yellow Colias croceus butterflies around in the Brzeziny Kapickie and Osowiec area.

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