Sunday, 27 May 2018

Eastern Poland - Day 3 (Bialowieza and the road to Warsaw)

After yesterday's long day in the field the plan was to have a more leisurely start so we planned to meet up about 6am, but I woke early and decided to have a quick mooch around an adjacent scrub and farmland close to the accommodation. It wasn't long before I'd seen YellowhammerTree Sparrow a couple Black Redstarts, Red-backed Shrike a flyover Hawfinch and Golden Oriole a singing Thrush Nightingale and a River Warbler! What a contrast to the UK where these days we struggle to see a single Yellowhammer among miles of sterile hedgerows and farmland.

Bialowieza, Poland
Red-backed Shrikes were common - but always a delight to see
Meeting up with the guys, the plan was to visit a few local sites around Bialowieza village before taking the longer but scenic cross country drive back to Warsaw. First stop was back to the River Warbler site from last night and sure enough the bird we had heard singing was in the same spot and was obligingly out in the open, also in the same tree was a singing Icterine Warbler.

Bialowieza, Poland
A great spot for River Warbler, Savi's Warbler, Icky, Golden Oriole, Lesser Spotted Eagle...I only wish I could remember its name!
Bialowiesza, Poland
Singing River Warbler
Bialowiesza, Poland
Singing Icky
Our next stop was the Zebra Zubra trail in search of Hazel Grouse but we weren't prepared for how long the trail was. The wooden boardwalk went on and on and on...In the end we gave up looking and turned back - the walk back was somewhat quicker, and had nothing to do with the howling Wolf we had heard!

We also tried and failed to actually see a Thrush Nightingale at a location in the village given to us by our guide but did catch-up with a pair of Barred Warblers, Great Reed Warbler and Rosefinch, as we tried to fit in as much as we could before heading to Warsaw.

Bialowiesza, Poland

On the route back to Warsaw we managed to mop up a few more birds for the trip list along the way - Montagu's Harrier, Serin, Corn Bunting, Little Ringed Plover, and Pheasant and we even managed to pin down and finally see a Thrush Nightingale much to the delight of all the team (especially Mr Rae!).

As a group we managed to record 108 species in our short time in Poland which Isn't bad considering most of the birding was done in and around a forest habitat. The main aim of the trip was to catch up with the Woodpeckers of Central Europe and as we recorded seven species (and this doesn't include Green Woodpecker) you could say it was a successful trip.

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Eastern Poland - Day 2 (Bialowieza Forests and the Upper Narew Valley)

Eastern Poland (18th – 20th May 2018) Trip Report - Part 2

I was awoken by a loud banging on the door - "Our guide is here" bellowed Mr Vaughan in a head masterish type of voice. Shi* alarm had failed to go off! And then it dawned on me - I had failed to update my mobile phone to Polish time (1hr ahead of GMT). I hastily got dressed, grabbed what I needed and dashed to the car park. The guys and and our guide (Mateusz) were waiting - a quick apology for my lateness and we were off to our first stop of a very long day..Bison!

A short drive and we watching a single European Bison feeding distantly in a large water meadow, great to see but I'd hoped to of seen this beast of an animal a little closer.

Bialowieza, Poland
A distant European Bison
Next up on our list of target birds was White-backed Woodpecker. We were led by our guide through a tangled wet woodland trail, the trail was bogy and with the rain falling and my head banging (that'll be the Vodka) I was beginning to think I should have stayed in bed! But once we'd reached the location and after waiting a short time our target bird showed - lifting my spirits! The forest was alive with singing Wood Warblers and calling Collared Flycatchers, we also enjoyed views of a stunning male Red-breasted Flycatcher. Matuesz quickly followed up White-backed Woodpecker with a pair of Middle Spotted Woodpeckers at a known nest hole at a location near the town of Budy, we could also hear the flutey song of a Golden Oriole and the contact call of a Black Woodpecker nearby, but failed to connect with either.

Bialowieza, Poland
Middle Spot
Our next stop was the Strict Reserve (an untouched area of forest, which was still in its primeval state). We took in a large loop of the forest and was one many groups being guided through the area as is the reserves policy in not letting tourists walk just anywhere in this part of Bialowieza Forest. We’d just stepped through the wooden gates when Bob (I think it was Bob) picked out a Black Woodpecker making short work of a dying Birch tree – this was my first Black Woodpecker and was blown away by its size, I knew they were big, but I hadn’t quite appreciated how big – this looked like a Crow on steroids with a Kango machine strapped to its head! 

Bialowieza, Poland
Black Woodpecker - Carnage!
As we looped the forest trail we managed to find a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, another Middle Spot and countless Collared Flycatchers and more singing Wood Warblers. As we left the Strict Reserve a pair of Honey Buzzards circled overhead and were taking advantage of the improvement in the weather.

Bialowieza, Poland

Bialowieza, Poland

Our first dip of the day was Grey-headed Woodpecker at a nest hole in the Palace Gardens – much to the disappointment of Jono, who had had a run of bad luck with these birds, but our guide soon retrieved the situation by leading us to a Pygmy Owl nest hole a short drive away. Disappointingly we only ever got head views of the bird as it pocked its head out of the nest hole to investigate what that scrapping noise on the trunk was – That’ll be Mateusz doing his best impression of a Pine Martin!
Bialowieza, Poland
Look carefully and you can see a Pygmy Owl
Lifted by the success of seeing Pygmy Owl we headed to Czerlonka in search of Three-toed Woodpecker a bird the team and I were keen to catch up with. An Initial search in a favoured area drew a blank – was this going to be the second Woodpecker dip of day? Then, as I pointed out a Honey Buzzard going low over the tree-line, a voice from the back of the group shouted “Three-toed”! Bob had found the elusive Three-toed Woodpecker a female, our luck had changed, and it was visiting a nest hole giving us all great views much to the delight of the team and our guide.
Bialowieza, Poland
The much wanted Three-toed Woodpecker
Bialowieza, Poland
Red Squirrel, so much better than those yank Grey's!
The next couple of hours were a bit of a blur! The plan was to visit a known site for Nutcracker and Tengmalm’s Owl but this involved a long trek through the forest and later along a disused railway line. It was now after midday and we’d been going for over 8 hours and the temperature was rising - we were all starting to feel the pace. For all our efforts, disappointingly we failed to locate either of our target birds, which made the long walk back even more difficult. 
Bialowieza, Poland
The long fruitless trek through the forest
The plan now was to head back to Bialowieza Village to freshen up and to get something to eat (Wild Boar) before heading to the Narew Valley and the Great Snipe lek. On route back we stopped off for an obliging male Red-breasted Flycatcher and a second attempt at Grey-headed Woodpecker. This time we struck lucky, much to the delight of the team and especially Jono. Matuesz had worked his magic, as he whistled towards the tree the bird obliged by appearing at the entrance nest hole and then came out and flew across the meadow and out of view.
Bialowieza, Poland

Back at the accommodation whilst the guys made the most of a much needed break (grabbing 40 winks) I spent my time showering and brushing my teeth having failed to do either in my haste this morning!

Refreshed again, we picked up Mateusz and headed north for about 90 minutes to the Upper Narew Valley. Arriving on site as the sun was setting conditions were perfect, still with clear skies – These conditions were also perfect for mosquitoes as the boggy marsh was covered in the little bloodsucking blighters! Thankfully I’d packed my Jungle Spray much to the relief of the rest of the team.

Walking out onto the marsh we could hear our first Corncrake calling, this soon turned into a second bird and then several others. We honed onto the closest calling bird but despite our best efforts couldn’t see it for the love or money – the bird was literally calling around our feet and we could even see the grass shake as it moved around but frustratingly it just wouldn’t reveal itself. Moving on to view the Great Snipe Lek, Mateusz pointed out a distant ridge approximately 100 metres away. It was then Mateusz said he could hear a bird calling near to where we were standing and then a bird took flight and landed in the long grass not too far away, despite the fading light the bird was still visible, and with scope and bins trained on it, for the next 20 minutes or so we all enjoyed one of the most amazing sights, as this Great Snipe put on an display of bill-clacking, then stretching its neck out and pointing its head to the sky, with the occasional tail wag, displaying those white feathers – this was repeated several times before the bird eventually flew off. You could tell by the broad smile on Mateusz’s face that we had witnessed something a little bit special. In near darkness the marsh was alive with bird song and along with Corncrakes we also heard Grasshopper Warbler, Thrush Nightingale, Woodcock and churring Nightjar.
Lek,Bialowieza, Poland
Yes - that is a Great Snipe in the dark at IS0 10,000
As we headed back to Bialowieza there was just time for one more stop off at a known River Warbler site, and true to form as we pulled up in the cars in pitch blackness we could hear the unmistakeable metallic sewing-machine sound of a bird singing close by. It was now after 10pm and we’d been on the go for about 18hours, we were all exhausted but agreed it had been a day to remember.

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Eastern Poland - Day 1 (Biezbra Marshes)

Eastern Poland (18th – 20th May 2018) Trip Report - Part 1

#WansteadOnTour - Jonathan Lethbridge, James Heal, Tony Brown, David Lowe, Richard Rae, Bob Vaughan.
Day 1 (18th May) - Biezbra Marshes

A two and a half hour flight from Heathrow into Warsaw, and a three hour drive east to our first destination of Dluga Luka Marsh for our first target bird...Aquatic Warbler. The transfer and journey had gone to plan and we arrived early afternoon and ahead of schedule. As we approach the reserve there is a bird tour coach on the side of the road, and they’re observing a small pond like inlet on the marsh close to the road side. We pull the car over and are astonished to see up to 100 White-winged Black Terns covering the marsh with several birds feeding on the adjacent small pond, on closer inspection there are also a few Whiskered Terns amongst the gathering, and a later we find a single Black Tern.

Biezbra Marshes, Poland
Team Wanstead soaking up some cracking views of performing Marsh Terns
Biezbra Marshes, Poland

Biezbra Marshes, Poland

Biezbra Marshes, Marsh Terns, Poland

Arriving at Dluga Luka and the weather is improving but the strength of the breeze isn’t filling us with much hope of seeing Aquatic Warbler. At the end of the boardwalk we wait and listen, we can hear a couple of Aquatic Warblers singing but the stiff breeze is keeping the birds low down in the reeds. While we wait our first Honey Buzzard of the trip drifts over, this is quickly followed be a Lesser Spotted Eagle (another target bird) circling above us and then a Montagu’s Harrier low over the reed bed. As the breeze drops and the sun breaks through the clouds and after about an hour’s wait we finally get good views of Aquatic Warbler fairly close to the wooden boardwalk with several birds now singing from the tops of the reeds – a great start to the trip, although disaster almost strikes as Jono hits the deck hard after clipping a loose wooden board, landing on his camera and lens - thankfully no serious damage done other than a bent converter, a stiff shoulder and a little embarrassment.

Biezbra Marshes, Aquatic Warbler, Poland
The boardwalk out onto Dluga Luka Marsh - Be careful of those loose boards!
Dluga Luka, Biezbra Marshes, Poland
The prize - a singing Aquatic Warbler

With two of our target birds already ticked on the first afternoon in Eastern Poland, we head off towards our accommodation a further two hour’s drive to Białowieża village. An early start and a long day in the forests of Białowieża await tomorrow, so what better preparation for an early start (3.30am) than a hearty meal of Deer stew washed down with several Polish beers (maybe one too many) and to finish a shot of the local Bison Vodka – I hope that decision doesn’t come back to haunt me tomorrow...

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Two of my Favourite Butterflies

Mid May and the patch has already got that summer doldrums feel about it - spring passage has now virtually dried up with just a single Wheatear knocking around the Brooms early on Saturday morning. There's plenty of activity from the resident breeding Sylvia Warblers but nothing of new to report with just Garden Warbler still waiting to be added to the Wanstead year list - maybe we'll have to wait until the return of autumn passage to now catch up with that one!

On the plus side at least I had two of my favourite butterflies on show, despite there diminutive size both Green Hairstreak and Small Copper have bag loads of colour and character when seen up close. The Green Hairstreak appears to be doing very on the Flats, I'm unsure if the increase in numbers is also reflected nationally but this once locally scarce butterfly is now a regular sight in the patches of long grass surrounding many of the copse's across Wanstead Flats. The Small Copper was my first this year and looked like a freshly emerged individual and was unusually still and calm for this typically hyperactive little butterfly.

Butterfly, Butterflies
Green Hairstreak
Butterfly, Butterflies
Small Copper

Monday, 7 May 2018

Is there a better sound?

I could listen to the song of a Willow Warbler on repeat and never tire of that delicate ripple of notes, gently rising and falling over and over again. This summer visitor to the UK from its sub-saharan wintering grounds is regularly seen in spring and autumn on Wanstead Flats but unfortunately no longer breeds here, this follows a similar trend across the southern half of the country with a more northerly shift in their breeding range.

Song, singing
Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus)

Press play, turn up the volume and listen to that wonderful Willow Warbler song recorded from the banks of Alexandra Lake on Wanstead Flats as the birds song gently pierces through the distant rumble of traffic from the road nearby.