17–27 May 2017
As we travel north along Poland’s eastern border we will visit two of Europe’s iconic birding localities: Białowież a Forest and the Biebrza Marshes. Target species will include Little Bittern, Lesser Spotted and Greater Spotted Eagles, Corn and Little Crakes, Great Snipe, Ural Owl, all ten European woodpeckers, Spotted Nutcracker, Aquatic, Eurasian River and Savi’s Warblers, Thrush Nightingale, Collared Flycatcher and Citrine Wagtail.
Day 1 Flight from Heathrow to Warsaw, where we will meet our local guide and bus with driver for the five-hour journey to the south near the Ukraine and Slovakian borders. Two nights in Przemyśl.
Day 2 After breakfast we will drive into the Carpathian foothills at about 610 metres. Black Stork, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Grey-headed Woodpecker, Eurasian River Warbler, Eurasian Golden Oriole, Collared and Red-breasted Flycatchers, Red-backed Shrike and Eurasian Nutcracker all occur here. In the afternoon we will visit the River San, right on the Ukrainian border, where we will look for Garganey, Eurasian Penduline-tit, Great Reed-warbler, Icterine, Marsh and Eurasian River Warblers and Common Grasshopper-warbler, Thrush Nightingale and European Serin to name but a few species. After our evening meal we will visit a forest where we will search for Ural Owl. We may also see Syrian Woodpecker, although Great Spotted Woodpecker is more common.
Day 3 Today we will drive north, first to fishponds then to a beautiful marsh. We should see Eared and Red-necked Grebes, Great Bittern, Eurasian Penduline-tit, Greylag Goose and both Black and Whiskered Terns. Overnight in Tomaszów Lubelski.
Day 4 Continuing north to Zamość , which is one of the most beautiful towns in Poland, we will look for Syrian Woodpecker before visiting the wonderful town square. Next we will head towards the Ukrainian border, where there are several wetlands and the River Bug, which forms the border itself. There is a good chance of Little Crake and Barred Warbler here and we should see all three marsh terns. The whole day will be spent leisurely exploring the area where every village has a White Stork's nest. Arriving in Chelm in the late afternoon we will check into our hotel and, after our evening meal, we will visit a nearby marsh for Aquatic and Savi's Warblers, Western Marsh-harrier and Montagu's Harrier.
Day 5 Heading north again, we will search for Ortolan Bunting before stopping at a lake that has breeding Great Bitterns as well as numerous Great Reed-warblers. Eurasian Hobby may be present over the lake, together with White-tailed Eagle. Our next destination is the River Bug, where there are sand dunes on which Wood Larks and Tawny Pipits breed. On the river are Little and Common Terns and waders, which may include Common and Green Sandpipers, Ruff and Common and Little Ringed Plovers. Our destination is Hajnówka on the western edge of the Białowieza forest for a three-night stay. The hotel is good and they cater for early-rising birdwatchers!
Days 6–7 There will be a varied programme of birdwatching in the buffer forests around the park proper, together with a morning visit to the primeval forest core with a guide. In the area as a whole we will visit sites where White-backed, Eurasian Three-toed, Black, Middle Spotted and Grey-headed Woodpeckers can be found, although most will have left their nest-holes by now. In addition, we will search for Hazel Grouse, although it can be very hard work! The forest abounds with Collared Flycatchers, Wood Warblers and Hawfinches, while overhead are Lesser Spotted Eagles and European Honey-buzzards. Bison, European Beaver, Wolf and Brown Bear all occur in the forest, but the chances of seeing any of them are very remote. We will also visit a large reservoir to the north, where Citrine Wagtail, Common Rosefinch and Black Stork breed, and nearby we will look for European Roller and Ortolan Bunting.
Day 8 We will drive north again, to fishponds near Biał ystok, where Eared and Red-necked Grebes breed and can be seen resplendent in their breeding plumages. There are also Little and Great Bitterns here, together with breeding marsh terns. We will arrive at our hotel in Goniadz mid-afternoon and, after checking in for a three-night stay, we will stand on a nearby viewpoint for a magnificent view over the middle basin of the Biebrza Marshes. Hundreds of White-winged Terns breed here in good years and Ruffs can sometimes be seen lekking. Black-tailed Godwits are common and White-tailed Eagles regularly hunt over the area. The real prize here, however, is Greater Spotted Eagle, about nine pairs of which breed in the area. They are far from easy, however, and identification from their commoner cousin, Lesser Spotted Eagle, can be difficult at a distance. In the evening we will visit a Great Snipe lek, although getting good views can sometimes be frustrating and insects can be a problem. Eurasian Woodcocks will be roding and Common Snipe drumming, and we may even see a Eurasian Nightjar on our way back to the hotel.
Days 9–10 We will explore the marshes, seeing Western Marsh-harrier and Montagu's Harrier, more Aquatic Warblers and numerous waders and terns. Elk can sometimes be seen from the tower hides and we may also find Black Grouse, Thrush Nightingale, Eurasian Nutcracker, Crested Tit and Common Rosefinch.
Day 11 With regret, we will return to Warsaw for an afternoon departure to London. There may be time for a quick drive through the old city, which has been restored, en-route to the airport.
General Information There are no special health or visa requirements. The weather can be variable at this time of the year from cold, wet and windy to very hot and sunny, so a selection of clothing is recommended. Insects can sometimes be troublesome. Wellington boots are recommended for the marshes. This will be a relatively intensive birdwatching holiday, although the walking is mostly on flat terrain with good paths.
Group Size Minimum number for tour to go ahead: 6; maximum group size: 10 with 1 leader, 16 with 2 leaders.