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NORTHEAST POLAND

Thursday 14th May - Wednesday 20th May 2009

Mike Watson

The latest shortened version of this tour to one of Europe’s most inspiring birding destinations with ‘Mr Poland’, Marek Borkowski, recorded a respectable 165 species, one of our highest totals in recent years, despite being battered by several thunder storms in this colder than usual spring. Pride of place went to the pair of diamonds of this special area – Aquatic Warbler, a feisty male buzzing away in a sedge-bed and Great Snipe (we enjoyed the amazing experience of close views of birds on the ground at their lek, which had eluded us last year). Other highlights were nine species of woodpecker included great views of the sought-after White-backed, visiting its nest deep in the primeval Bialowieza Forest and the recent colonist, Syrian (a new bird for this tour); numerous sightings of White-tailed Eagle as well as several close Lesser Spotted Eagles; as usual, a blur of many hundreds of marsh terns (Whiskered, Black and White-winged) hawking over the Biebzra Marshes; the ever tricky-to-see Corn Crake (which is happily still common in Northeast Poland, in fact much commoner than moorhen!); a fluffy Eurasian Eagle Owl chick still in its nest and a lovely turquoise blue European Roller (one of the last survivors of the sadly dwindling Polish population). A great line-up of European passerines, many of which are difficult to see elsewhere, included: 17 species of warblers, including sewing-machine-imitating River Warblers, the explosive mimic, Icterine Warbler; rich bursts of song from Thrush Nightingales; shy and retiring Red-breasted and strikingly black-and-white Collared Flycatchers; a fine male Citrine Wagtail; a jaunty whistling Common Rosefinch and the sadly declining Ortolan Bunting. As we scoured the Biebzra Marshes we clocked up another three Birdquest Polish lifers – Little Egret (still a scarce migrant to northeast Poland), Caspian Tern (two) and Little Owl (a surprising gap). Finally the forests of Bialowieza produced the fifth ‘write-in’ – Booted Eagle. However, the outstanding tour highlight for many came in the form of the two awesome bull European Bison seen in Bialowieza. It was a privilege to set foot again in this very special corner of Europe, where remnants of an ancient way of life can still be seen in the form of pretty meadows, rustic hamlets and endless quiet forests stretching as far as the eye can see. However, the negative impact of Poland’s economic progress on its countryside is now starting to be felt as meadows are abandoned and the land, which is still being farmed, is more intensively cultivated. As so often is the case in the world today, a visit sooner rather than later is strongly recommended.