Saturday 16th April 2016 (a)

BUBO in POLAND  -  part 3

 BUBO leave the forests and find masses of waterbirds.

BUBO leave the forests and find masses of waterbirds.

Despite our busy day yesterday, we set our alarms and were up at first light so as to not waste any time. I can't say it was easy to drag ourselves up but we managed it OK for some local pre-breakfast birding. As we had no desperate targets now, after our well-deserved success the day before, we asked Bogdan to take us to some locations for great general birding. We couldn't go far from the guest house or we'd have missed breakfast - literally a crime - so we decided to try the town park on the edge of the village. 

 Bialowieza Town Park gates.

Bialowieza Town Park gates.

The weather was very dull and cloudy in the post-dawn hours and I found it very difficult to take any photos. The Park contained various buildings and these were surrounded by very large trees and there were many woodland species on show. The trees though were not as dense as in the main forest and viewing was pretty good. We saw plenty of Hawfinches and Jays, plus single Treecreeper and Nuthatch. A big surprise for me, as I wasn't expecting them at all, assuming they'd already be back up north, was a flock of c.30 Waxwing calling and flying around the tops of the tallest trees.

 Birding in the gloom in Bialowieza Town Park.

Birding in the gloom in Bialowieza Town Park.

As we reached a cleared grass area, we had a Grey-headed Woodpecker fly across and into the trees, where we also saw a second bird. Not as good views as the previous day though. We saw a couple of Marsh Tits really close and there were a few Wood Warblers singing. We were hoping for perhaps an early Collared Flycatcher as this is apparently a really good spot for them but it did not feel at all summery. Fieldfares were plentiful and we heard lots of Great Spotted Woodpeckers drumming. The lads also picked out a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker drumming also but we couldn't really see it high up in the trees above the path.

 The marshes along the south side of Bialowieza town.

The marshes along the south side of Bialowieza town.

We left the park after some great birding and scanned from the bridge over the marshes alongside the River Narewka on the south side of the town. Here we saw a Black Stork distantly feeding in these extensive wet areas. We had our first really good look at a White Stork nest on the building just next door. It has long been traditional for the people of Poland to encourage the storks to nest in their villages by putting up special platforms on roofs and on telegraph poles. This species is thought of as the main harbinger of spring here, and so Polish folklore associates the species with good fortune, heralding the end of a harsh winter. This custom has protected the White Storks in Poland and so they are more common here than anywhere else - you see them everywhere. There was also a family of Tree Sparrows nesting in the storks' nest, which is apparently very typical.

 One of the many, many White Storks nests, this one on a building on the edge of Bialowieza town.

One of the many, many White Storks nests, this one on a building on the edge of Bialowieza town.

 Orthodox Church in Bialowieza, one of the least ostentatious ones we saw.

Orthodox Church in Bialowieza, one of the least ostentatious ones we saw.

Our stomach called us for breakfast and we wandered down the road back towards the guest house for an excellent feast. These breakfasts were much better for me than the evening meals with lots of bread and cheese and eggs to scoff, all laid out for us as a nice spread, with a cup of tea - superb. We loaded up our stomachs, then loaded up the car, and headed north out of the town, seeing a male Redstart by the guest house.

Within a minute of leaving the town, along the edge of some marshy woodland, I spotted a brown blob in a tree which looked like a rather large bird of prey. We jumped out and managed to 'scope up a brilliant Lesser Spotted Eagle perched up. I clearly hadn't read up enough on Poland's birds as I thought that these would be no way near back from Africa yet - but here it was! A great surprise. It sat there for a while before we clearly became a little tiresome for it, and it took off and flapped around the clearing a bit before disappearing.

  Lesser Spotted Eagle  - near Bialowieza town

Lesser Spotted Eagle - near Bialowieza town

The sun came out quickly and we carried on north through the forest, calling at a clearing that we had visited the day before as it was a good spot for flycatchers. We didn't see one but we did have decent views of another Lesser Spotted Woodpecker feeding at the top of a huge tree.

We carried on travelling northwards until we finally left Bialowieza Forest behind and headed into more open terrain of villages and farms, although with lots of patches of woodlands interspersed. As we drove through the outskirts of a village called Narewka, we casually glanced out of the car window and saw three massive lumps in a field. They couldn't be could they? But, yes they were! Three giant Bison just strolling around behind a barn on the edge of a grassy field!

  European Bison  - just north of bialowieza forest.

European Bison - just north of bialowieza forest.

We were quite incredulous at this sighting. We have been told that Bison, despite their size, were very difficult to find, and that plenty of people have been to Bialowieza and not seen any. And also because we went out at first light yesterday Bison-hunting and only luckily saw one shy, and half-hidden in the depths of the forest. Yet, here were three, out in the bright sunlight, mid-morning, just chomping on grass near the roadside as if they were cows.

We got out of the car and didn't really need to set the 'scopes up, as they were so gigantic. I don't know why, but I had a massive urge to run up and rugby tackle one! A tour bus pulled up next to us, also spying the beasts, and the local in the house next-door beckoned us into his field and we all managed to get pretty close in the end. It was quite overwhelming and we felt very privileged having such good views of such a rare animal.  

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 Three magnificent and rare hunks of beef........and three bison in the background.

Three magnificent and rare hunks of beef........and three bison in the background.

 The trees in Poland were covered in clumps of  Mistletoe , a rare sight in the UK nowadays.

The trees in Poland were covered in clumps of Mistletoe, a rare sight in the UK nowadays.

Our destination today was the very large Siemianowka Reservoir - about 10 x 5 km - which is directly north of Bialowieza Forest and almost on the Belarus border. We first parked up at the south-eastern corner of the lake and the sun was shining beautifully as we climbed the bank. We were quite surprised when we reached the top and looked out, as this was not what we'd usually think of as a 'reservoir'. It looked more like a nature reserve. There were acres and acres of reedbed, stretching as far as you could see, with open water between them, and it was surrounded on most sides by woodland and fields. And there were birds too!

 Birding the southern bank of Siemianowka Reservoir.

Birding the southern bank of Siemianowka Reservoir.

 Siemianowka Reservoir is half-covered in reedbeds and full of birds. The most distant trees here are probably in Belarus.

Siemianowka Reservoir is half-covered in reedbeds and full of birds. The most distant trees here are probably in Belarus.

The waterbirds from this viewpoint included flocks of duck in the open water - Gadwalls, Wigeon, Shoveler, Pintail, Teal and about 20 Garganey - as well as a few Great Crested Grebes and Cormorants. A handful of gulls flew around including presumed Caspian Gulls (yuk!). A flock of c.40 Great White Egrets rested distantly in the reeds and there were always flocks of Ruff flying around, easily the most common wader we saw in Poland. But the highlight of this stop were the eagles! We saw at least three White-tailed Eagles flying lazily around the far side and landing on tree snags - a pity they weren't closer. We then picked up a 'spotted' eagle circling high above us and, although we initially presumed it was Lesser again, when we studied it, we realised that it was actually a Greater Spotted Eagle. It had broader wings and darker plumage and a shorter tail. A Lesser Spotted Eagle then appeared in the same sky and showed us the differences. Three species of eagle from just one spot and all more or less at the same time - superb!

  GREATER Spotted Eagle , Siemanowka Reservoir.

GREATER Spotted Eagle, Siemanowka Reservoir.

The small birds alongside the reservoir bank included the first Willow and Sedge Warblers of the trip, presumably a Blue-headed Wagtail flying around, and another white-headed Long-tailed Tit. Whilst we stood there we noticed that there was a little bit of passage going on overhead, with small groups of the common finches all moving in a northeasterly direction into Belarus. In amongst these we picked out about 10 Crossbills heading out, but what was more unusual for us were the number of Jays. We've always heard about these large movements of Jays that can occur in Europe but we don't really get this in the UK. Here there were regular small groups of up to 20 birds per flock passing over us heading towards the Belarussian border.

Another weird thing we had here - and later in many wetland areas of Poland - was the constant calls of Fire-bellied Toads from the waters edge. A really odd sound and they literally never ever stopped! I managed to get a recording on my phone which you can hear below.

At about lunchtime, we got back into the car and drove round the western edge of the Reservoir to visit its northern bank, where we saw some different species.