Monday, 30 May 2016

Biebrza Marshes, Poland 4: final thoughts incl. Cranes, Godwits and Wolves

This is my final post about Poland for the time being.  What I haven't really talked about is how the agricultural land that surrounds the marshes contributes greatly to the wildlife value of the area and the experience for anyone visiting.  These areas are very accessible compared to the wetlands, and offer some insight on how our countryside might have looked in the fairly recent past - when birds like Whinchat, Red-backed Shrike and Wryneck were still breeding in lowland England.
male Red-backed Shrike, a common bird
Whinchats in particular, were very common, almost every rustic looking fence line was occupied by one or two!  Small scale dairy farming is still commonplace, mixed in with arable farming and small orchards.
One of the many dairy herds
Most of the arable crops are grown in strips, with several crops grown in close proximity and relatively few large moncultures of oilseed rape and cereals.
Yellow Wagtail (race flava)
Yellowhammer - very common indeed
Some of the wetter meadows grazed by the dairy cows had a few pairs of Black-tailed Godwits, Lapwings and Redshanks with the occasional Curlew.  The godwits were great to watch, often perched on fence posts, a sight we don't get to see too often in the UK - maybe one day they will find Otmoor to their liking....
Black-tailed Godwit

Cranes were commonplace in pretty much all of the habitats on offer and very easy to see in small groups, even a few larger flocks of fifteen to twenty birds.  Early one morning I was fortunate to find a pair right next to the road, in one of the few areas of peat bog.  With a delightful backdrop of birch trees and cotton sedge, they looked very much the part.
Crane pair
Large mammals have survived in this part of Poland, most famously the Bison at  Bialowieza Forest.  In Biebrza there are still Wolves and Lynx, as well as the Beavers and Elk previously mentioned.  Of course I did not see Wolf or Lynx - they are very shy indeed - but I did find fresh Wolf footprints on a track within the Grzedy Forest Protection Area, where I also had a brief view of a Pine Marten.  Spotted and Lesser Spotted Eagles also nest in the forest.
Wolf footprint - it was still a suprise to see how big it was
These mammals are vitally important for the ecology of the area - the grazers and their predators - and this national park has one of Europe's the best surviving examples of a relatively complete food chain!
White Stork - commonly seen, also just a few Black Storks
White Storks nest in most of the villages
Immature Lesser Spotted Eagle, spied through a gap in the hedge.  They spend a lot of their time feeding on the ground.
Planning my visit was made relatively simple due to the excellent info available, not least via the Wild Poland website and contained within the Crossbill Guide to North-east Poland.  Driving in Poland is not too bad once you are away from Warsaw, you just need to take a bit of care on the dirt roads around the national park area - I nearly got the Nissan Micra stuck on day one and was more cautious thereafter.

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