A few birding stops were made when travelling between Biebrza and Bialowieza. The main highlights were a lake that held at least 7 White-tailed Eagles, soaring above and doing a spot of fishing. We also checked a sand quarry for a nesting pair of Bee-Eaters. No sign of those unfortunately, but only a few Bee-Eaters remain in Poland anyway, not really a bird I was expecting to see.
We then reached the town of Bialystock, where there are some fishing pools. It also a popular stopping-off point for other groups of birders, by far the largest numbers of birders seen. And with good reason. At the edge of a Black-headed Gull colony, we managed to find a Great Reed Warbler and a Little Bittern.
As you would expect, the numbers of nesting Black-headed Gulls are also attractive to nesting Grebes, for the protection they get from predators. So it was pleasing to see summer-plumaged Black-necked and Red-necked Grebes, in addition to Great Crested Grebes. We were also treated to wonderful views of a male Penduline Tit, in the middle of constructing his nest, then singing above it in order to attract a mate.
The accommodation at Bialowieza really was lovely. Quite a new guesthouse but in the style of an old hunting lodge. It also had a singing River Warbler in the garden and a calling Corncrake in the adjacent meadow. A first attempt for Pygmy Owl in the evening was unsuccessful, although there was a Nightjar and plenty of roding Woodcock.
The first full day in the Bialowieza forest began with an early start in the strict reserve, which can only be visited in the accompaniment of an official guide. On the whole I found the strict reserve rather difficult for viewing. The forest is untouched by man and is rather inpenetrable (the vegetation and the light) as a result. However, if you want great views of Middle Spotted Woodpecker, then this is the place to go.
There was also a gorgeous male Collared Flycatcher in the same spot as the woodpecker nest hole. But other than a Marsh Tit nest hole, and the sound of a drumming White-backed Woodpecker (so we were told), there wasn't that much else to see within the strict reserve.
The walk back to the guesthouse takes you through the palace park, the old palace being the Russian Tsar's equivalent of Balmoral. We did also see greater range of woodland birds. Not Middle Spotted Woodpecker or Collared Flycatcher, granted. But there were Lesser Spotted Eagle and Honey Buzzard overhead, a nest site for Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Common Rosefinch, Serin.
During the afternoon, the woodpecker-fest contiuned! You'll probably realise that all the guides have sussed out nest sites for the main Woodpecker species. They did have a nest site for White-backed Woodpecker, but unfortunately their nest site was taken over by Starlings. As a result, White-backed Woodpecker was a struggle, but we did latch onto Grey-headed Woodpecker:
And Three-toed Woodpecker:
Other highlights during the afternoon were good views of Thrush Nightingale (at last!) and River Warbler, the only Stonechat of the trip, and more Golden Orioles, Icterine Warblers and a Barred Warbler. Another dip of Pygmy Owl in the evening, but in truth I was so tired by now after a 5am start, my mind wasn't really with it by then.
The second full day was a struggle to add any more birds onto our list. The main priority still being Woodpeckers. But again, no sign of White-backed, and Black Woodpecker gave us the slip during the day as well. In fact, the best sighting in the forest during the day was a Wild Boar.
Part of the day was spent at Lake Siemanowka, to the north of the Bialowieza Forest. New birds onto the list here were Caspian Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull and Little Tern. But the most entertaining view here was of a Hoopoe, flying low over the water and carrying a large Bee or Beetle in it's bill. That was until the bird dropped the insect and onto the water's surface. Incredibly, the Hoopoe then hovered, tern like, over the water, grabbed the insect back off the surface and carried on it's way. Brilliant!
The last evening in Poland was spent with one more try for Pygmy Owl. It didn't happen again, but at least we found out why. There was a Tawny Owl in the vicinity, which we had good views. Quite wisely, if there's a Tawny Owl in the area the Pygmy Owls will be lying low. We also had good views of the Corncrake in the meadow next to the guesthouse, using my torch.
We had some time to spare before heading to Warsaw for the flight home, and this was spent wisely. We had excellent views of a male Red-breasted Flycatcher, and on the way back, we got one of these!
An excellent view of a Roller sat in a roadside tree. After a couple of minutes the bird took off to perform it's wonderful display flight, going high in the sky and, quite literally, rolling from side to side as it flew down. What a great end to a most enjoyable trip.
North-east Poland is an area that I have wanted to visit for quite a long time now, the Biebrza Marshes and Bialowieza Forest certainly didn't disappoint. Let's hope these wonderful habitats will continue to be looked after as they are now.
In fact Poland as a country I thought was really lovely, obvious that it's economy and it's people are doing well for themselves. Everyone I met were really friendly and welcoming, in stark contrast to the rather miserable experience I had at a McDonalds on the edge of Banbury, for a bite to eat on the evening drive home. But I won't go into that.
But to quote Dave Gosney in his "Finding Birds in Poland" book. This is the real Poland, don't miss it.