When: 5 days in mid September 2023

Where: Białowieża Forest & Biebrza Marshes

Who: dr Jen Unwin & dr David Unwin from UK

Type of the tour: Autumn tour (private)

Highlights: woodpeckers (White-backed, Middle spotted, Grey-headed, Black, Lesser Spotted), Nutcracker, Pygmy Owl, Lesser & Greater Spotted Eagles, Hen Harrier, Crane, Woodlark, Penduline Tit + Bisons, Elks, Beavers, Pine Marten, Red Squirrels, Roe Deers.

Trip report

Jen & David arrived pretty late to Warsaw so did we to Białowieża in the evening. After dinner en route and short introduction to the area as well as their expectations of the tour (interest in everyone – amphibians, insects, mammals, birds), we checked-in in our luxurious accomodation in Białowieża, an old tsar carriage, and listened to Red Deer stags roaring close-by…

We started Day 2 with a walk in the old-growth part of the forest. Soon we observed Middle-spotted Woodpecker together with a flock of Marsh & White-headed Long-tailed Tits. In the recent years I found a mid-forest glade nearby which was inhabited by a pretty stable population of Praying Mantis. And indeed, as soon as it got warm they started to show up. Not only we found at least 3 individuals of Mantis but also had a pretty rare Large Marsh Grasshopper! Ancient woodlands surrounding us at the further part of our walk gave us views of Black Woodpecker, Red Squirrel & good numbers of Nuthatches together with Hawfinches. Straight from the excursion we entered local restaurant where we had amazing lunch consisting of bigos (polish cabbage stew). As it was already afternoon we set up to explore some more forest area. It was a good decision as unexpectedly we were in the middle of the Red Deer rut. Despite it was 4 p.m. stags were roaring intensively, yet we didn’t manage to observe any visually. But we had a male White-backed Woodpecker drumming there.

On early morning of Day 3 we planned to look for some Bison. However, after evening rains the mist was thick that until 8 a.m. we weren’t able to observe any wildlife. But as soon as it cleared out we had amazing moment when a huge Elk bull appeared on the meadow, along with Red Deer females grazing there, Cranes & Woodlarks calling whilst flying over and Red-backed Shrike hunting from the scrubs. Also on the way back for breakfast we found ur first Bison!
At 9 a.m. we met a local Białowieża guide who led us to the Strict Reserve of Białowieża National Park (UNESO site). We had a zen moment there as we almost didn’t meet anyone and we had a moment of reflection on this amazing site and how european woodlans should look like. Lesser-spotted Eagle was the bird of the excursion – we watched it hunting on the edge of the forest.
In the evening we decided to look for some mammals & owls. As soon as we departed we ovserved Bison 300m from our accomodation. Twenty minutes later we were already in the forest, ambushing on the road crossing with binoculars and scope. Stags were roaring even more intensively than before and very soon owls started to be active as well. We had opportunity to watch at least 3 Pygmy Owls including very good views of the bird perched on a dead tree. When it got dark Tawny Owls became vocal. All in all, great evening with amazing soundscape.

Day 4 was probably the highlight of the tour and this morning was one of the best Red Deer experience I ever had.
Again we started with early morning activity – first 3 animals were Roe Deer, Cuckoo & Bison bull. Not bad! When it got brighter we stopped and started our walk to the midforest river valley where I expected Red Deer activity to be high. Before reaching destination we already had a few females crossing our road in front of us as well as stags surrounding us vocally. Suddenly, a herd of 15 Bisons decided to show up in the distance – we had opportunity to observe females and calves there. As we walked closely we even experienced sounds, not only the noise of animals trambling the forest but also mating calls of bulls.
And then the summit for Red Deers started. They were calling from all directions, at least two-digit numbers and constant staccato of the stags. Soon males in a frenzy of hormones left the forest and we were able to watch few of them in the open. Worth calling is that Red Deer is a strictly woodland species here due to human presence so it was a really joy for all of us, including me.
After breakfast we started our journey north in the direction of Biebrza Marshes. We made two stops on the way there – on the Siemianówka Reservoir & in the town of Tykocin. On the Reservoir we were able to watch some fine waterfowl – Dunlins, Little Ringed Plovers, Common Snipes, Gadwalls, Teals, Great White Egrets as well as Penduline Tits in the reedbeds and Greater Spotted & White-tailed Eagles above. On the ground we spotted Grass Snakes, first for the tour.
A visit to Tykocin was a cultural stop – it was one of the most important Jewish centres in the First Polish Republic. Some left-overs are still visible there, including market square & old synanogue.
Soon we checked in the accomodation on the Marshes but even before that in a few minutes we watched Elk female, 4 Nutcrackers & Grey-headed Woodpecker near the hotel!
Pretty excited we had a dinner and afterwards we got in the car as for the evening we were planned to do a Beaver boat trip on the Biebrza Marshes. It was a huge success – we had opportunity to observe at least 7 Beavers including juveniles & underwater views of animals swimming underneath our boat. We were surrounded by calls of Tawny Owls and trumpets of Cranes roosting nearby. What’s more – on the riverbank we watched Pine Marten browsing for food. What a day it was!

On the last day of the tour we did a loop around southern basin of Biebrza Marshes. It was a good decision as we observed numerous flocks of Cranes, a few Great Grey Shrikes, Hen & Marsh Harriers and Black Redstarts. Due to low water level we were also able to approach the main current of Biebrza very closely. We spend some time just sitting and observing the abundance of wildlife in the clear waters of the river. It was amazing ending of such a succesful tour!