28 MAY – 04 JUNE 2018
By Andy Walker
This one-week customized Poland tour commenced in Krakow on the 28th of May 2018 and concluded back there on the 4th of June 2018. The tour visited the bird-rich fishpond area around Zator to the southwest of Krakow before venturing south to the mountains along the Poland and Slovakia border.
The tour connected with many exciting birds and yielded a long list of European birding highlights, such as Black-necked and Great Crested Grebes, Red-crested Pochard, Garganey, Black and White Storks, Eurasian and Little Bitterns, Black-crowned Night Heron, Golden Eagle, Western Marsh and Montagu’s Harriers, European Honey Buzzard, Red Kite, Corn Crake, Water Rail, Caspian Gull, Little, Black, and Whiskered Terns, European Turtle Dove, Common Cuckoo, Lesser Spotted, Middle Spotted, Great Spotted, Black, European Green, and Syrian Woodpeckers, Eurasian Hobby, Peregrine Falcon, Red-backed and Great Grey Shrikes, Eurasian Golden Oriole, Eurasian Jay, Alpine Accentor, Water Pipit, Common Firecrest, European Crested Tit, Eurasian Penduline Tit, Savi’s, Marsh, Icterine, and River Warblers, Bearded Reedling, White-throated Dipper, Ring Ouzel, Fieldfare, Collared Flycatcher, Black and Common Redstarts, Whinchat, Western Yellow (Blue-headed) Wagtail, Hawfinch, Common Rosefinch, Red Crossbill, European Serin, and Ortolan Bunting.
A total of 136 bird species were seen (plus 8 species heard only), along with an impressive list of other animals, including Common Fire Salamander, Adder, Northern Chamois, Eurasian Beaver, and Brown Bear. Species lists are at the end of this report.
Poland Custom Tour:
Day 1, 28th May 2018. Arrival into Krakow and travel to Zator
After an evening arrival into Krakow we met up with our excellent local guide Kasia and traveled for approximately one hour southwest to the town of Zator where we checked into our spacious country B&B for the first of a couple of nights stay in the area.
Day 2, 29th May 2018. Zator fishponds
Within the first five minutes of stepping out of the B&Bs front door we had seen nesting White Stork, male Montagu’s Harrier, a pair of European Serin, heard European Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers, seen Eurasian Golden Oriole, and best of all the rapidly-declining European Turtle Dove, and we’d barely set foot out of the garden!
We visited a couple of fishponds for an hour before breakfast and found nesting Black-necked Grebes, Great Crested Grebes, and Whiskered Terns, along with Common Pochard, Tufted Duck, Gadwall, and Mute Swan, with Black-crowned Night Heron and Grey Heron flying through. Water Rail called once from a patch of reeds, but we were unable to get views of this secretive species. The calls of Great Reed Warbler and Sedge Warbler rang out across the pools, as did that of Common Cuckoo.
After breakfast we visited a different set of fishponds and were treated to some very memorable sightings, not least the ‘flock’ of three Eurasian Bitterns that were flying around chasing each other for quite some time (with several others ‘booming’ from the reedbeds at the same time). A low-flying Black Stork provided some very welcome views of this often-secretive species, as did a couple of European Honey Buzzards, Western Marsh Harrier, Bearded Reedling, Eurasian Nuthatch, Common Rosefinch, Eurasian Golden Oriole, Black-crowned Night Heron, Garganey, and Caspian Gull, as well as many more nesting Whiskered Terns and Black-necked Grebes.
In the late afternoon, after a bit of a thunderstorm, we headed back out to some ponds near our B&B. Here we heard Eurasian Penduline Tit, but it remained out of sight. Other more obliging birds (but not by much in some cases) included Great Reed, Savi’s, Marsh, Sedge, and Eurasian Reed Warblers. Further prolonged views of mixed-species nesting colonies of Great Crested and Black-necked Grebes and Whiskered Terns were had. A Common Cuckoo flew through and a White Stork flew towards its nearby nest. Another Water Rail called, but this one was even deeper in the reedbed.
After our evening meal we again took a short walk, where we found several new birds for the day, including European Greenfinch, Common Merganser (Goosander), Great Egret, Common Redshank, Common Tern, and best of all a very obliging River Warbler allowing prolonged views as it sang to us at eye-level. Another thunderstorm rolled in, so we made a hasty retreat back to our B&B and called it a day before the rain came down., ending a very enjoyable first day’s birding on the tour.
Day 3, 30th May 2018. Zator fishponds and travel to Niedzica
We again spent the morning birding around a series of fishponds near our B&B and, despite covering a similar area to the previous day, were rewarded with many new species, and improved looks at several of those already seen. Some of the highlights of our pre-breakfast walk included a glimpse of Water Rail, Eurasian Hobby, Spotted Flycatcher, Marsh Warbler, Whinchat, European Stonechat, Mistle Thrush, Eurasian Golden Oriole, Lesser Spotted and Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Hawfinch, and nesting Black-necked Grebes and Whiskered Terns.
The midmorning was spent covering other fishponds, where we saw Little Bittern, excellent prolonged views of a singing Marsh Warbler, a nesting Eurasian Penduline Tit, Common Rosefinch, Red-crested Pochard, Garganey, Black Stork, Northern Lapwing, Little Ringed Plover, Green and Wood Sandpipers, Black Tern, and Caspian Gull.
The majority of the afternoon was spent traveling to Niedzica in the mountains, very close to the Slovakian border. An increase in Fieldfare was evident, as were our first Common Kestrels and several nesting White Storks. After finding some dinner in town we had an early night, ready for the following morning’s early start.
Day 4, 31st May 2018. Tatra National Park
An early start saw us hitting the road for the Tatra Mountains (getting some excellent views of the still snow-capped slopes along the way). A couple of roadside stops gave us Great Grey Shrike, White-throated Dipper, Fieldfare, Common Blackbird, Song Thrush, White Wagtail, Spotted Flycatcher, and Red Fox.
We set off on a four-kilometer walk through a mountain valley and were soon watching an interesting range of birds. White-throated Dippers were showing incredibly well along several stretches of river, and Grey Wagtails were also numerous here. Both Black Redstart and Common Redstart were around the national park ticket office, along with European Robin, Dunnock, and Eurasian Wren. Several Northern Ravens were about, giving interesting vocalizations as we walked past them, and both Eurasian Jay and Spotted Nutcracker were seen flying through, but better views were desired for the latter. Common Buzzard and Common Kestrel got the pulses going for a few moments as we were scanning the ridges. However, eventually one of our big targets did come into view, a stunning Golden Eagle. Both Goldcrest and Common Firecrest were heard but unfortunately not visible, although Coal Tit and European Serin did both show nicely.
Many beautiful butterflies were evident throughout the morning. But the real highlight of the day came in the form of a serious surprise… While scanning the mountain ridges we were alerted to the presence of a large shape on the small grass-slope clearing in front of us ̶ it was only a Brown Bear! The bear soon walked out of our sight, but we were ecstatic with our brief view as it disappeared into the bush, thinking we had been very lucky with what we had seen. About 20 minutes later another, smaller bear appeared into view and gradually started walking towards us as it fed, seemingly totally oblivious to our presence! Unbelievably the bear continued closer and closer, stopping at the river (which was separating us from it). It then crouched down and started drinking from the river – a mere 15ft from us! We were all speechless with excitement at what we were witnessing. After a few moments (that felt like an age) the young bear seemed to notice us (and the growing group of onlookers) and gradually started back up the slope, occasionally shooting us a quick glance as it walked away and into the undergrowth, where it disappeared. What an incredible sighting!
It was going to be hard to beat that, so we started our hike back for a late lunch/celebratory cake! During the afternoon we headed back to our B&B and spent the late afternoon resting and daydreaming about Brown Bears!
Day 5, 1st June 2018. Pieniny National Park
We had a later breakfast than on the previous day and then headed to the nearby Pieniny National Park, where we walked a mountain trail in the ‘three-crowns’ area. We enjoyed a showy European Serin, Black Redstart, Common Chiffchaff, and European Goldfinch and followed these up along the trail with European Crested Tit, Tree Pipit, Fieldfare, Song Thrush, Lesser Whitethroat, Common Whitethroat, Eurasian Blackcap, and Spotted Nutcracker. As we looked at the skies we observed Golden Eagle, European Honey Buzzard, and a pair of Peregrine Falcons flying around the peak. We also identified at least 15 species of butterflies, the most spectacular (and, thankfully, most showy) was the huge Poplar Admiral.
After a break during the heat of the middle of the day we again ventured out, visiting a patch of scrub and lakeshore. Here we found several warblers, including Marsh, Garden, and Willow Warblers, Eurasian Blackcap, Common and Lesser Whitethroats, and Common Chiffchaff. Fieldfares were breeding everywhere and constantly bringing food to hungry nestlings. Common Rosefinches were quite vocal with their “pleased-to-meet-you” song, at least four ‘brown’ birds singing, but finally we found a nice ‘colored’ male that showed off for us. A view of the lake yielded over 30 Great Crested Grebes, a family of Common Mergansers, Little Ringed Plover, and a mixed flock of Common and Black Terns. Another non-avian treat came in the form of a small Adder that was moving along the sandy access track.
Day 6, 2nd June 2018. Pieniny National Park
A pre-breakfast amble for Maria gave her excellent views of Eurasian Beaver, but it had disappeared by the time everyone else got down to the lake! The others of us had to settle for three Little Ringed Plovers, several Caspian Gulls, and a mix of various hirundines.
We spent the morning hiking along a ridgeline near our accommodation, which was really nice and peaceful, and birdy too. Lesser Whitethroat was singing next to our parking spot, and soon after came the distinctive call of European Green Woodpecker, followed by a couple of brief views of the male bird (a difficult woodpecker to catch up with in Poland). Black Redstarts and Spotted Flycatchers were noted, as well as several European Robins, Eurasian Blackcaps, and Common Whitethroats. A couple of European Serins showed beautifully, as did Yellowhammer. A single European Roe Deer walked across the meadow, and a couple of Eurasian Red Squirrels were found. A couple of male Icterine Warblers were singing at each other across the meadow, but neither was visible. As we entered a patch of forest we picked up Spotted Nutcracker, Common Cuckoo, Red-backed Shrike, Tree Pipit, Eurasian Nuthatch, and Great Spotted Woodpecker. A screaming call alerted us to the presence of a Peregrine Falcon, so after some quick scanning the bird was located atop a dead tree, complete with a recent kill. The sound (and sight) of displaying Common Buzzards was also very obvious here, and careful scanning located a single European Honey Buzzard too, and a bit later, ahead of an oncoming thunderstorm, a Red Kite. However, star bird sighting of the morning was the male Black Woodpecker that flew in and landed very close to us, giving excellent views. This is a seriously impressive bird. As we left the birding site for lunch we picked up a smart male Whinchat in one of the beautiful meadows. It was also in the meadows, and the forest edges that we found yet more beautiful butterflies of many species, such as Large Copper, Heath Fritillary, Woodland Ringlet, Meadow Brown, and Black Hairstreak.
Much of the afternoon was, unfortunately rained out with a torrential thunderstorm, but once it cleared we had a really enjoyable couple of hours, during which we found some great birds and other wildlife. Avian highlight came right at the end of the day, when we got fantastic views of a Corn Crake; prior to this we had enjoyed watching a pair of Hawfinch feed the young in their nest, several Willow Tits, Red-backed Shrikes, and Yellowhammers, as well as Goldcrest and another Whinchat. Non-avian highlight of the day was undoubtedly the Common Fire Salamander that sat in the middle of the track, presumably coaxed out by the wet conditions underfoot. What a stunning creature!
Day 7, 3rd June 2018. Tatra National Park
The morning saw us heading out in light rain to the Tatra National Park once more, where we jumped aboard a series of cable cars to take us up to the high-elevation areas. After about 30 minutes of riding we arrived near the top of our chosen mountain and were greeted with a wall of clouds all around us. Birds were definitely present as we could hear our three main target birds immediately, but seeing them just as quickly would prove a little more difficult. With some patience, waiting for the breaks in the clouds, first we got good views of two pairs of Water Pipit, then followed it up with a very confiding Alpine Accentor (see front cover image), and finally alpestris Ring Ouzel. Here we also found more widespread species, such as Mistle Thrush, Fieldfare, Northern Wheatear, White Wagtail, and Black Redstart. A new mammal was also found while up here when we came across the Critically Endangered (IUCN) tatrica subspecies of Northern Chamois (a goat-like mammal); there are estimated to be less than 200 individuals of this subspecies in the world. It showed really well as it lay in the grass cleaning itself. Back at lower levels Common Rosefinch was vocal, and best of all was a very showy Common Firecrest. A gorgeous little bird!
After returning to our B&B (via a riverside stop and a Common Kingfisher sighting) in the late afternoon we had an early dinner and headed out for an evening birding session. The Corn Crake was still calling from its meadow, and Red-backed Shrike and Whinchat were both also present. Walking into the forest we noticed a very dapper Red Fox and soon followed it up with two caudatus Long-tailed Tits and the nesting Hawfinch. As we reached a clearing the sound of woodpeckers alarming and drumming got our attention – at least four Great Spotted Woodpeckers were present and very agitated. Possibly they were agitated by the presence of a nearby Eurasian Pygmy Owl or Long-eared Owl (both were heard calling). Eurasian Woodcocks were busily roding over the forest clearings, and a European Roe Deer was making some very scary sounds from the undergrowth when it got dark! As we eventually returned to our vehicle the distant sound of a Tawny Owl could be heard in the distance.
Day 8, 4th June 2018. Krakow and tour conclusion
Early risers were again rewarded with Eurasian Beaver sightings, with at least five seen around their lodge. After packing up we started our final day’s birding as we made our way back to Krakow in time for Mark and Maria’s evening flights home.
Our first stop of the morning was at a reservoir south of Krakow with some exposed mud at one end. Here we found a small group of territorial Little Ringed Plovers and a couple of pairs of Northern Lapwings. Several Common Terns were fishing in the reservoir and loafing on the mud and were joined by both a single Whiskered Tern and then a Little Tern. A small flock of male Garganeys were present, some already starting to moult into their drab eclipse plumage. Several other familiar species were noted, including some very loud nesting Grey Herons.
We moved to some farmland adjacent to some woodland, where we found European Stonechat, Whinchat, Great Reed Warbler, Marsh Warbler, Yellowhammer, Eurasian Golden Oriole, Common Kestrel, Tree Pipit, Meadow Pipit, and best of all a few Ortolan Buntings. The woodland itself was quieter than anticipated, however, although we did gain brief views of Middle Spotted Woodpecker, Great Spotted Woodpecker and families of Eurasian Blue and Great Tits. Eurasian Nuthatch were calling and occasionally showing, but a Collared Flycatcher remained distant and out of sight.
Moving into the city of Krakow itself we made a brief visit to a small urban park where we had fleeting glimpses of a pair of Syrian Woodpeckers. Here we also had nice looks at a couple of caudatus Long-tailed Tits, Black Redstart, and European Serin.
The final stop of the day, and the tour, was at a forest near the airport itself, where we had fantastic views of Middle Spotted Woodpecker feeding below eye-level, even on the ground! A family group of Eurasian Nuthatches were also very confiding. A female Collared Flycatcher was elusive, giving brief snatches of views, unlike the Spotted Flycatcher that sat for long periods out on exposed branches. The usual species, Common Blackbird, Song Thrush, European Robin, and Great Spotted Woodpecker were all present in good numbers too.
With that the tour concluded back at Krakow International Airport. A huge thank you to Mark and Maria for making this such a fun and memorable trip, and to Kasia for all of her help with everything along the way. It was great birding with you all, and I look forward to the next time.
Please see the downloadable PDF above with the full species lists included.