Thursday, 28 May 2009
We started with a visit to the Hel peninsula on the Baltic (lots of comments about going 'to Hel and back'!) and had good views of long-tailed duck, common and velvet scoter, eider, goosander, red-breasted merganser and goldeneye, as well as cranes and plenty of white storks nesting on chimneys or on the specially constructed platforms near the houses. I had my first ever sighing of a wryneck in the scrub near the point of the peninsula. We also started to see harriers and other birds of prey.
Our next area to explore was the Masurian lakes and we spent a day round Lake Sniardwy and the smaller Lake Luknajno. The highlights for me were sightings of white-tailed eagle, black woodpecker, whiskered and black terns, Savi's warbler and a great reed warbler singing away on the top of the reeds. But the most stunning image is of a bearded tit sitting for quite a few minutes in the reeds, his head a vibrant blue-grey, and so different from the fleeting glimpses I have had in the past at home. We also encountered here some little fiends which were to accompany us for the rest of our stay - the midges. A lot of insect repellent was used in the days following and it is not a good idea to use the forest as a loo when there are so many midges around. I still bear the scars.
From the lakes we moved further east to the Biebrza marshes. Whilst there, we visited Marek's home and were entertained to tea and an evening meal, welcome refreshment after having to negotiate a very scary bit of marsh in order to see one of the star birds of the trip, an eagle owl. So many wonderful sightings occurred in this whole area. We saw golden orioles, one of the best views being from a window in the hotel, white-winged black terns, thrush nightingale, red-backed shrike, middle spotted woodpecker, spotted eagle and lesser spotted eagle and had the chance to get good views of both hen and Montagu's harriers to help in identification. The special moments for me were the eagle owl blinking at me from its nest, and the aquatic warbler, which perched on top of its tussock of grass, singing out so we could hear what Marek told us was "the rarest singing bird in Europe."
The ancient Bialowieza forest area on the eastern border with Belarus was our final stop. Here we were to see collared flycatcher, grey-headed woodpecker and white-backed woodpecker and hawfinch along with other woodland species. Some of us went out at dusk to see a Great Snipe lek and, yes, I did see the black shapes and white flashes. One of the group was quick to spot a bison as we were travelling on the coach. Did we also see a citrine warbler? The debate continues, no doubt.
Apart from the birdwatching there are so many other memories. We had a morning tour of Gdansk and saw the old town, the shipyard gates and the Solidarity memorial. We had a tour of Malbork castle, the largest brick built castle in Europe and headquarters of the Teutonic knights in the 14th century. In Warsaw we had a quick tour of the rebuilt old town, including the impressive and moving memorial to the Warsaw uprising.
The hospitality was great and the food overwhelming. Marek's "just a little snack" at lunchtime invariably turned out to be a meal which would have done for the rest of the day after the generous breakfasts.
This was my first trip with the group and I thoroughly enjoyed it. We were a friendly, cheerful lot and it was good to be with those who had had more experience of birdwatching and who were able to help with sightings and identification. The group total was 187, including 10 heard. I did not see everything but was thrilled with so many "firsts" and I know I saw birds that I am unlikely to see again and have given me special memories. We owe a big debt of gratitude to Alan who organised it and to Marek and "young Marek" for their guiding and company in Poland.
(Report written by Wendy Easterling)