Poland 2010

...with Felix Felger

April 1st - 6th

April 1st: London to Krakow

We met at Gatwick and caught an early morning flight to Krakow, where our Polish guide, Felix, and driver, Marek, were waiting to whisk us a short distance from the airport to a good site for woodpeckers. First, though, we made a lunch stop at a restaurant, for a hearty and delicious meal of meat and potatoes, to provide a little ‘fuel’ for the hilly terrain of Wolski Forest. Within a few minutes of polishing off our food we were wandering through open woodland carpeted with Wood Anemones, and almost immediately the first woodpecker on our ‘wanted list’ – Middle Spotted – was duly ticked off with fantastic views of a very obliging pair had by all. The species is quite common at the site, so we had several more encounters during the visit. Other birds noted included Eurasian Buzzard, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Coal Tit, Eurasian Nuthatch and Eurasian Treecreeper. After wandering the trails further we eventually tracked down our second key woodpecker species – Grey-headed. Again we were lucky to find a pair, and we watched them performing beautifully well for an extended period as they went about their business. The long, cold winter meant that woodpeckers in this part of Poland were a little later than usual in breeding and had not yet chosen their nest-holes. This made them less reliable in terms of definitely finding them, but on the plus side, once found they would usually be more active and engaged in more interesting courtship behaviour than they would have been had they already settled on a breeding site. On the way back to the minibus a Hawfinch gave great views and even permitted a digiscoped photo or two as it sat on a low perch. Our final ‘target’ woodpecker of the day was Syrian, but a whistle-stop tour of three city-centre sites (with nice views of the famous Wawel Castle en route) failed to locate the bird. We did, however, catch up with more common city birds, including singing Fieldfares and Black Redstarts, along with a rather splendid Red Squirrel with ridiculously long ear-tufts. Then it was time to head to our hotel, the Pod Debem, which was a short drive outside the city.

April 2nd: Krakow area

A pre-breakfast birdwatch in the hotel grounds produced a pair of white-headed Long-tailed Tits, many Fieldfares, a Black Redstart and a Barn Swallow, but a promising lead for Syrian Woodpecker (given by the hotel owner) turned out to be a Great Spotted. There was no sign of the Beech Martens that inhabit the garden, other than a ‘calling card’ left by one on one of the picnic benches! The key site of the day was Niepolomicka Forest, where we hoped to track down Ural Owl. We came across our first White Storks during the short journey, including some birds on nests, together with an unexpected sighting of a Hoopoe flying over the bus. Just inside the forest a pair of Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers showed very well above our heads, and continued the theme of seeing woodpeckers in pairs! Middle Spotted Woodpecker proved to be rather common as we carefully negotiated ‘the log in the bog’ to reach one of the best areas for the owl. A thorough search revealed signs of Ural Owl in the form of droppings underneath favoured perches, but not the birds themselves. A Eurasian Treecreeper nest, Common Ravens passing overhead and sightings of Roe and Red Deer provided some interest, but eventually we decided to take a break and return later in the day. Yellowhammers and a Great Grey Shrike were noted at the forest edge. Fortified by another hefty lunch we returned to Krakow to try again for Syrian Woodpecker, and today we had success at the second site visited when a pair (again!) showed very well along a railway embankment. Then it was back to the forest to focus on the owls. Another thorough search, lasting until dusk, unfortunately failed to locate the hoped-for Ural, with one ‘probable’ calling briefly being the only sign. Tawny Owls were much more active, with several birds vocalising and one showing very well in a pine tree in quite good light. Back on the bus we had an amazing stroke of luck when an owl zipped in front of us just a few minutes’ into the journey home. Marek’s swift application of the brakes and angling of the headlights illuminated a stunning Ural Owl low down in a tree right beside the road! It flew a few metres into the forest and then obliged by remaining and giving staggeringly good views in the torchlight for a few minutes, pouncing unsuccessfully at prey a couple of times before heading off deeper into the forest and leaving some very happy birdwatchers in a celebratory mood!

April 3rd: Pieniny Mountains

A pair of Serins bade us farewell from the Hotel Pod Debem as we set off towards the Pieniny Mountains. The journey passed quickly and birds seen included European Stonechat, Corn Bunting, White Stork and White-throated Dipper. Our first walk, in the western corner of the national park, produced a pair (what else?) of Black Woodpeckers and a Black Stork flying overhead. Common Crossbill, Goldcrest, Common Chiffchaff, Eurasian Siskin and Coal Tit were all present in good numbers. After checking in to our hotel, which had beautiful vistas of the snow-covered Tatra Mountains in the distance, in the afternoon we went on a walk at Spisz. This began in a meadow filled with thrushes, including many Ring Ouzels of the scaly alpine race mixed in with Redwings, Eurasian Blackbirds and Song Thrushes. Continuing along the trail through the beech and spruce woods, we eventually came across the next woodpecker on the ‘wanted list’ – a male Three-toed. It was rapidly joined by a second, its mate, continuing the trip’s theme of seeing woodpeckers in pairs. The birds showed amazingly well for a prolonged period at point-blank range as they were engrossed in weedling out grubs from a rotting tree. Not far along the track, a pair of ‘pied’ woodpeckers high in the canopy of a tree at the top of a steep hill were probably White-backed, but unfortunately they showed poorly for just a matter of seconds before disappearing for good. By way of compensation, this site turned out to be a Black Woodpecker ‘hot-spot’, where two or even three pairs came together in a territorial altercation that we spent a good period of time observing as events unfurled. A Green Woodpecker – unusual in this location – showed briefly but well and broke the mould by giving a solo performance. A roding Eurasian Woodcock finished off a very good day by performing a dusk fly-past.

April 4th: Pieniny Mountains

A return to yesterday’s first Black Woodpecker site for a pre-breakfast walk turned up trumps for that species again, with much better views this time. Eventually, close to the end of a rather quiet walk, a clatter of wings heralded the arrival of a pair of Hazel Grouse in the trees right above our heads. Then, over the next hour we were privileged to watch two pairs of this often elusive species engaged in a territorial dispute, with many sightings of the birds perched in trees and on the forest floor. Following breakfast, our main walk of the day began at the same spot where we had left the Hazel Grouse, and remarkably they were still present so we enjoyed further views before continuing on our way. We made a steep ascent up the national park trail, with good sightings of Ring Ouzel, Eurasian Bullfinch, Brambling and Common Crossbill along the way. However, by the time we reached the higher altitudes, the wind had developed into a veritable gale. The extensive beech forests that span either side of the footpath along the ridge here are the best habitat in the Pieniny for White-backed Woodpecker. The wind, though, was so strong that despite a prolonged and extensive search we did not see our target, or indeed many other birds. Descending the other side of the ridge the wind dropped and a Peregrine Falcon and a House Martin both performed fly-pasts. Dinner was taken early ahead of an evening visit to Falsztyn. An impromptu stop was necessary on the short drive to the site to watch a Lesser Spotted Eagle by the roadside. On the walk into the forest we saw some more Ring Ouzels and a Red Fox. The first highlight here was a pair of Nutcrackers, and we enjoyed excellent views of the female on and around the nest, and the male keeping guard from nearby treetops. Then, as dusk fell, we took up position in a forest clearing and waited. The local pair of Pygmy Owls did not take long to show themselves. The female was the bolder of the two and perched out in a tree affording good views through the telescope. We were even treated to some behaviour which Felix had never seen before in years of studying the species, when the pair performed a simultaneous fly-past and touched together in a mid-flight ‘kiss’! The night was rounded off with some vocalisations from a Tengmalm’s Owl which called from either side of the clearing in which we were standing but remained resolutely hidden in the forest and out of our sight.

April 5th: Zator Fishponds

A great view of Eurasian Otter hunting in a beaver pond close to the hotel was an unexpected and delightful start to the day. The journey from the Pieniny was punctuated by three brief birding stops. The first, at Czorszyn Reservoir, produced two Great Egrets, several Common Mergansers, a Black-throated Diver and a Common Tern, while the second, at the peat-bogs of Orawa, afforded good views of three male Black Grouse and three or four Great Grey Shrikes. Light rain had set in by the time we reached the Zator fishponds, where we hoped to boost the trip-list with the addition of a host of waterbird species. The first stop was at a pair of drained ponds which produced Little Ringed Plover, Common Redshank, Blue-headed Wagtail and at least three summer-plumaged Water Pipits. Nearby an Osprey kept watch from the top of a pylon. We then travelled a short distance to an extensive area of reed and mud-fringed ponds where highlights included about 20 Great Egrets and a similar number of Garganey. Waders included four Green Sandpiper, one Wood Sandpiper, three Spotted Redshank, four Common Greenshank, three Black-tailed Godwit, two Dunlin, and more than 110 Ruff. The wildfowl list was boosted with the additions of Greylag Goose, Gadwall, Northern Shoveler, Eurasian Teal, Tufted Duck and Common Pochard. Newly arrived Barn Swallows rested en masse on the reeds and power cables, and a Grey-headed Wagtail worked its way along the edge of one pond. Great Crested and Little Grebes were in evidence, but the displaying Black-necked Grebes were the show-stealers among that particular family. Western Marsh Harriers and a booming Bittern were added to the list. As the afternoon progressed we visited a series of other ponds, including one with a busy colony of Black-crowned Night Herons and Caspian Gulls, and another where we added Common Kingfisher, Common Crane and summer-plumaged Red-necked Grebe to the list, together with an unexpected reeling Savi’s Warbler. A bird which looked like a contender for drake Lesser Scaup caused pulses to race for a few seconds, but it turned out to be a hybrid, most likely a Tufted Duck x Common Pochard. The same pond produced more great views of Garganey and Great Egret and the first Willow Warblers of the trip.

April 6th: Krakow to London

The morning dawned cold and overcast as we arrived at the fishponds for a pre-breakfast birdwatch. As with yesterday, the cold conditions and rain hindered our viewing and no doubt contributed to the Bluethroats (the first returning bird of the year had been reported at the site the previous morning) keeping a low profile. A Penduline Tit which showed briefly was the bird of the morning, while other highlights included good numbers of wildfowl, several quartering Western Marsh Harriers, a booming Bittern and a good view of a Muskrat going about its business. All too quickly it was time to return to the hotel for breakfast before heading to Krakow airport for the flight home.

For details of the full species list or to request further information about the next time we will be offering this trip. Contact us at enquiries@birdwatchingbreaks.com.

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