Speaker: Richard Bashford of Naturetrek and the RSPB
Reporter: Cath Robinson
Richard Bashford was well qualified to speak about this subject having been a Naturetrek guide on expeditions in Poland for several years. His Birding background is RSPB and BTO and now back at RSPB with also time as a freelance leader of birding trips.
His enthusiasm about the birds and wildlife of Poland was obvious as he took us with him on a virtual trip which covered two of the most acclaimed and well-known areas in Poland for wildlife: the Bialowieza Forest and the Biebrza Marshes, although acknowledging that Poland was a big country and there were many good birding areas. Although there have been big
changes since the 90s with more developed agricultural practices in places, there are still many areas where strip agriculture is practiced and the countryside is still rich and varied in wildlife with great birding just travelling through the country. He mentioned the Fish Ponds (which are clearly massive lakes) which you pass en route from Warsaw to the Forest where
he has seen 5 types of grebe in summer plumage.
The Bialowieza Forest just seems a joy. Most of it is in Belorussia but there are still 580 square miles in Poland. This mixed woodland is the largest remaining remnant of original European forest. The village where they stayed is in the heart of the forest with singing Thrush Nightingales in the garden. The forest is a true mosaic of habitats with meadows and lakes
along with mixed forest and as such there is a great mix of birds to be seen. Most of the area is managed for forest but there is a Special Area of 50 sq kms where there has been no forest management for over 100 years and access is strictly controlled: there is no traffic and tours (on foot) need to be accompanied by a licensed forest guide. From what Richard said it is a
magical place in which to walk especially in the spring with deafening birdsong: up to seven species of woodpecker in this area (up to 10 possible on the trip) as well as the possibility of hearing 4 species of flycatcher singing: Collared, Red-breasted as well as Pied and Spotted. His talk was accompanied by bird song impressions so we heard the call of the Collared flycatcher as well as the Grey-headed woodpecker which sounds like a sad Green Woodpecker. Where spruce predominates there’s a better chance of seeing Firecrest and Nutcracker and the 3- Toed Woodpecker. Exploring the more managed parts of the forest still yields a phenomenal birdlist: Barred and River warblers, Middle Spotted and White-backed woodpeckers; Wryneck, Lesser-spotted Eagles over the meadow areas, Tree Pipit, Woodlark, Hawfinch, Wood Warbler,.....and a dusk trip to try and find a Pygmy Owl (which may come to a whistled call which he demonstrated).
And the mammals: Red Squirrels, Red Deer, Beavers, and Bison: once extinct but now after a captive breeding and re-introduction programme there is a sustainable herd.
En route to the Biebrza marshes there was a stop at Siemianowka Reservoir: loads of birds here: White- tailed Eagles (up to 6 in sight at once); Black and White Stork, Citrine Wagtail and possibly a Common Rosefinch. Black, Whiskered and White-winged Terns breed here and if not seen here, then Richard said there were clouds of them over the Biebrza marshes. These are a massive wetland area with wet meadows and hay making and all the prime habitat that creates. 235 bird species have been recorded, 185 breed. There is a chance of seeing Great Snipe at lek (at dusk with trillions of mosquitoes) and also Ruff at lek. Also breeding Black- tailed Godwit, Savi’s, Grasshopper, River and Great Reed Warbler; Penduline tit, Crakes Corn, Little and Spotted....... Well, I think we were quite exhausted at the end of his talk and fairly green with envy. It always strikes me what a depleted environment we have here in the UK. Although proud of our tiny nature reserves and striving to develop wildlife corridors, we are trying to crawl back up the cliff face compared to many other countries in Europe where there is much less destruction of countryside and obliteration of insect life and I suppose often less pressure on land to build. Currently anyway: maybe our poverty of wildlife compared to their riches is an important
lesson warning of the future.
But many thanks to Richard and his enjoyable trip to Poland: I’m not the only one who is very keen to go.
Please feel free to read through our reports from our monthly indoor / online meetings.