Despite all the shenanigans with British Airways, I did get to Poland. Terminal 5 at Heathrow is very posh actually. On arrival at Chopin airport in Warsaw myself and the rest of the group I was touring with met our guide, Henryk, and our mini bus driver.
There is contrasting architecture on the route out of Warsaw. Plenty of new office blocks and new roads, symbols of European Union membership. Along with rather grey and grim looking blocks of flats, presumably built during communist times. We also crossed the River Wisla, the main river through Warsaw, looking very full:
A sign of things to come. There had been quite serious flooding further south in Poland. Whilst enjoying the passing White Stork nests on platforms in people's gardens, a couple of hours drive north is the small village of Nowogrod, where our first hotel for the night was, just to break up the journey north-east to the Biebrza Marshes.
Quite a pleasant hotel by the River Narew, but unfortunately a rather large and loud wedding reception was taking place, and went on well into the night. Despite all the noise, this did not put off a Beaver on the river bank during the evening. The following morning kicked the birding off in the hotel grounds and riverbank. Which included Fieldfares, Red-backed Shrike, Wryneck, Icterine and Barred Warblers, Woodlark and Black Redstart.
After breakfast various stops were made along the Narew River valley during the day, before reaching the next hotel in the small town of Goniadz (stop sniggering, there's an "I" in the name!). More birds came thick and fast including Golden Orioles, Marsh Warblers, Serin, the odd White-tailed Eagle, plenty of Marsh Harriers, a couple of Montagu's Harriers, Common Cranes, Garganey and most impressive of all, hundreds upon hundreds of marsh Terns! The vast majority being White-winged Black Terns, with smaller numbers of Whiskered and Black Terns.
The first full day in the Bierbrza (pronounced Beyepsha) Marshes started off with a Hawfinch in the hotel garden, Great Reed Warbler and booming Bittern from the nearby riverbank. It was also apparent that water levels were higher than usual here. The advantage of this is that the marsh Terns are easier to see, but there is less suitable nesting habitat for them and for waders.
The rest of the morning in the marshes produced Bluethroats, Common Rosefinch (complete with it's "nice to meet you" song), 3 Lesser Spotted Eagles, a Black Stork, a Savi's Warbler and a Penduline Tit.
While trying to find a Thrush Nightingale deep in a bush, it was apparent that the local mosquitoes took a liking to me, biting insects usually do. Despite using insect repellent, they do have a knack of finding the smallest part of unprotected skin. Even the ends of my thumbs got bitten!
After some lunch we continued to an area of the marshes reliable for Citrine Wagtail. Which duly obliged:
There was less flooding here, which allowed for a selection of displaying waders. Curlew, Redshank, Black-tailed Godwit, Common Snipe and, to our surprise, a Great Snipe appeared! We decided to wait a while to see if it reappeared, which it did, along with two more! It turned out that this was a new Great Snipe lek, only discovered by the park rangers this year.
Unlike Common Snipe with it's drumming display, or a roding Woodcock, male Great Snipe gather at leks like Ruff and Black Grouse do. The sound of a displaying Great Snipe is a bit like a fast-bouncing tennis ball. Then when that stops, put your binoculars up in time for them to jump up out of the grass, and hopefully they'll do a short flight before landing and out of sight again. Which I managed to do for one last time as two Great Snipe made that short flight, the mottled brown underneath was distinguishable from Common Snipe. Great stuff! Especially as a very large amount of rain was about to start.
An attempt was made during the evening to find Aquatic Warbler. However, the weather had taken a turn for the worse, with the wind picking up as well as more rain. As a result we didn't see Aquatic Warblers, although we did hear them along with plenty of reeling Grasshopper Warblers and a grazing Elk.
With only one more evening in Biebrza, and with Great Snipe already seen, at least we didn't to face the difficult decision of where to go the next evening. Try again for Aquatic Warbler or go to an established Great Snipe lek.
The final full day at Biebrza was spent exploring the marshes a little further afield, so more time was spent being driven around. It was also the day with worst weather, with a strong cool breeze with some rain.
As a result, finding Ortolan Bunting in a favoured piece of farmland proved elusive, but during the course of the day we did manage to find a Greater Spotted Eagle, more Marsh and Montagu's Harriers and White-Tailed Eagles. Towards the end of the afternoon we reached a large expanse of flooded river meadows with an excellent selection of birds including many more marsh Terns, Little Gulls, Wood Sandpiper, Temminck's Stint.
We were back looking for Aquatic Warbler in the evening, and were rather more successful than the previous evening. And how!
Which brought a successful end to our time at the Biebrza Marshes. In the morning, onward to the Bialowieza Forest.