Sunday, 22 May 2016

Biebrza Marshes, Poland 1: magical wetland experience - Aquatic Warblers, Elk and much more...

I've wanted to visit to Biebrza Marshes in north east Poland for many years, especially since acquiring a copy of "Portrait of a Living Marsh", a wonderful book filled with the work of 32 wildlife artists, published back in 1992.  The main wetland and forest areas are part of a relatively new national park (established in 1993) and nature based tourism is being developed.
I grabbed a window of opportunity to take some leave, booked flights with Wizz Air and spent a full four days exploring the area last week.  It was a really rich area for wildlife - great expanses of largely natural floodplain wetlands surrounded by farmland and forests.  Four days were not really enough as there is so much to see, but allowed time to get a good look at what are called the lower and middle basins of the Biebrza river valley.
The avian jewel in Biebrza's crown in the rare and secretive Aquatic Warbler.
Aquatic Warbler
About a quarter of the world population return to these marshes each spring, where they set up territories in the extensive sedge beds.  A great place to see them is the
Dlugu Luka Boardwalk, where you can experience life in the midst of the fen, while keeping feet dry.  
the boardwalk at dawn
the same boardwalk later in the morning
I visited four times, three times in the morning and once in the evening.  In the mornings the birds were reluctant to sing but every now and again one appeared atop a stem of reed or sedge.  You need to be quick, as they soon descend back into the thicket of sedge leaves.  In the evening, in contrast, many birds were singing all around the boardwalk - now you appreciate how many there are.  But they were impossible to see.  Frustrating, but also wonderfully enigmatic.
The area around the boardwalk was full of other interest - groups of Black-tailed Godwits displaying and then chasing off a Montagu's Harrier, displaying Snipe all around, reeling Grasshopper Warblers.  
Black-tailed Godwits in flight over the fen, early morning
A nearby watchtower is a perfect vantage point for viewing out across the marshes. Late one evening as dusk descended, I watched from the tower as a female Elk emerged from the adjoining forest to graze on the willow scrub.  Then I noticed a movement around her legs and realised she had a tiny calf.  Now regretting leaving my telescope in the car, I quietly descended the stairs and returned with my scope and tripod.  I quickly got a much better view of the Elk and calf.  Now, I realised there were actually two calves (it turns out this is quite a rare occurrence). This was the last I saw of the family as the mother then walked her youngsters back into the forest.  The next day I returned to see if they were still around, but instead there were two young male Elk in the same area, this time in full daylight.
the two Elk

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