Region’s wildlife

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North-east Poland (Podlasie)

An area that every wildlife enthusiast should visit at least once in lifetime. The region with relatively untouched landscape covered by famous Białowieża Forest – the last remaining primeval forest in lowland Europe and the Biebrza Marshes – one of European last and largest natural river valleys. A place where Belarusian, Ukrainian, Jewish and Tatars culture mix with the Polish creating region’s uniqueness.

So what makes Podlasie’s nature special for wildlife lovers?

fot. G. Grygoruk

Białowieża Forest

A magical forest with ancient oaks, limes, hornbeams and elms is partly protected as a National Park. The area is always a focus of the trip. Home for over 200 bird species and more than 50 mammal species, 10 woodpecker species, 4 flycatcher species, variety of warblers and owls. Refuge to one of Europe’s last remaining herds of Bison. There a few wolf packs and several Lynx hunts on their prey- Red deers, Roe deers and Wild boars.

An additional area within the National Park is the “Strict Reserve” (which is unreachable without licensed guide).  Here you can experience how the European lowlands would have looked like over a hundred years ago, and with the ranger understand how this national park began, how the Wars took their toll on the flora and fauna, and what have been done to restore it, so that it has now become biological hot-spot for Europe.

Biebrza Marshes

Extensive marshes with wooded areas on higher ground and well-preserved peat bogs. The only place where Elk (Moose) survived during World War II and the most important breeding area for wetland bird species in Poland. The flooded meadows are covered in spring by marsh marigolds creating suitable habitat for both species of spotted eagles, three species of  marsh terns and many warblers (including Aquatic Warbler– the rarest migrating singing bird in Europe). The mosaic of channels and cut-off rivers holds many Beaver families.

fot. G. Grygoruk

Siemianówka reservoir

This large artificial lake build in the upper stream of Narew river was created in late 1980s in the vicinity of Belarussian border. Its large open water and extensive reed bed has helped to bring eastern species (like Spotted Eagles or Citrine Wagtails) to this area of Poland. It’s a wonderful area for waders, Penduline Tits and White-tailed Eagles.  A few kilometers from the lake in Narew river valley Great Snipes gathers at dusk and start their lekking show.

fot. T. Kułakowski

Agricultural areas and others

The extensive farmlands around here have been relatively untouched by the recent large-scale farming practices so often seen across Western Europe.  As a result, you can still find some rare birds breeding here such as Ortolan buntings, Montagu’s Harriers and Hoopoes. On small ponds and lakes Red-necked and Black-necked Grebes as well as Little Bitterns, Little crakes or many warblers breed in good numbers.

Want to know more?

Have a look at this trailer. The film is called „A touch of Podlasie” and faithfully represents region’s uniqueness. I took part in this project and helped authors with some wildlife shots.

So what is possible and when?

Widlife calendar

For details as to the peak-time to see particular species please look at the table below. This is of course, if you know where to look.

Other interesting, though quite common, birds in the region are:

Whooper Swan, Bittern, Great White Egret, White and Black Stork, White-tailed Eagle, Honey Buzzard, Montagu’s Harrier, Goshawk, Crane, Woodcock, Snipe, Hoopoe, Fieldfare, Black and Common Redstart, Lesser and Common Whitethroat, Wood Warbler, Great Reed Warbler, Marsh and Willow Tit, Great Grey Shrike, Tree Sparrow, Hawfinch, Rosefinch.

My top tips on when to visit

Although the main ‘season’ is May to June, I do feel that early Spring (mid-Mar to April) is undervalued and not as popular for tourists but this time of year can be very rewarding, as often the trees are in tighter bud which makes spotting easier.

Whenever you choose to come to Podlasie region, whether for a long weekend or a short-break there is a good chance of seeing eight species of Woodpeckers, Hazel Grouse, Nutcracker and Owls: Pygmy and Tengmalm’s (and Great Grey Owl if trip extended to Belarus).

This is also in my opinion the most magical time of the year in Bialowieza Forest with the biggest activity of woodpeckers and best time for owls. The moment when you stand in the middle of the forest surrounded by colorful anemones waiting for Pygmy Owl to respond to the guide’s whistling with first Thrushes singing around, Woodcocks roding above, Cranes trumpeting in the distance and Tawny Owls calling as the darkness falls is something indescribable.

fot. R. Kakareka

If you want to focus on Bison then come in winter (November through to March). This is when the females and calves gather in big herds while the larger males tend to remain alone or in small groups. Over the years, I have learnt the best spots to watch them so we can maximise our chances.

fot. K. Bolechowski

Autumn is also a good time for most target species you expect to see when come to Poland. Woodpeckers and owls have their ‘second’ peak of activity, as the young try to set-up their own territories prior to winter. Wildlife spots are often not as busy as they are in spring and birds will be starting their seasonal movement

In September and October an extension to Polish Baltic coast is especially recommended. Here, you can experience wonder of migration and the effect of the natural bottle-neck on Vistula Spit.  Numbers up to 500,000 individuals of passerines and many birds of prey move along narrow piece of land every day and can be watched from the comfort of famous raptors watch point or sometimes even from your hotel.

fot. G. Grygoruk