Birding trip report West Poland 24-29 May 2001

John van der Woude  -  www.jvanderw.nl 


Right across the border behind Berlin, in West Poland, is an important wetland teeming with birds. This is the lower Warta valley, with marshes, wet meadows and woods in the valley bottom, and good fields, bushes and woods on the valley slopes, and with extensive mixed forests a bit further away. All this is in an old and bird-friendly agricultural setting like you hardly find in western Europe anymore.
Contrary to the famous reserves in eastern Poland, this lower Warta valley is within easy reach from NW Europe. We drove from Amsterdam to Berlin in less than 7 hours, picked up our British friends at the airport there, and drove on via the border town of Kostrzyn into this Polish wetland region in another 2 hours. Here we ticked River Warbler and Common Rosefinch as our first birds, and spotted many White Storks on nests in the villages.
We stayed all five nights in hotel Huzar in the town of Gorzow Wielkopolski (Gorzow Wlkp), 30 minutes to the East of the main wetland area. We had arranged this stay through e-mail (huzar@hotel.gorzow.pl , tel. +48 95 722 44 07). Huzar is a pleasant and comfortable, small hotel in the rural outskirts of this town, on the West side and hence on the side of the wetlands. On entering Gorzow from the West, take the road North to Szczecin (well marked) and then go left again after 100 meters. The GPS coordinates of the hotel are (in WGS 84) N 52°43’14’’ E 15°10’41’’. Some of the hotel staff spoke good English (and a bit German) and the e-mail correspondence had been in English too. From their private parking place at the back of the hotel we noted Serin and Lesser Whitethroat. The hotel serves breakfast anytime you want, and their dinner was fine although we soon got directions for a very good (and still relatively cheap) restaurant in town. This is called Don Vitorio, is on the main street running SW-NE through the centre near the river, and has a private parking place.

Many shops sell bread and other lunch items, and naturally you will want to have your lunch in the field, watching the White-tailed Eagles, or a Hoopoe at its nest. Shops are indicated as such (‘sklep’) and the only other two Polish words we used were ‘czesc’ for hallo (pronounced as chech) and especially ‘dziekuje’ for thank you (pronounced as dzjenkooyeh).

Polish money can be obtained now from many cash machines serving most credit cards and also Cirrus. There are several in Gorzow, and a very useful one in the village of Witnica right along the main road from border town Kostrzyn to Gorzow, at N 52°40’34’’ E 15°00’24’’, next to a shop with bread.

The Polish are good map makers and we heavily relied on the excellent 1:100.000 map of the region (‘Okolice Gorzowa Wlkp’). This map is sold locally for only 1.4 euro (a Dutch map of similar high quality would cost a sixfold of this). We had got it beforehand from a friend (Arend) who had been here 3 weeks before, and he also gave us many hints for birding stake-outs. Without his help this trip would have been far less succesful.

We came in our own car but it seems possible to drive in a rental car from Berlin into Poland. Somebody told me they did it with Hertz (they had asked them beforehand).

The weather was splendid except for the last full day when it was heavily clouded with some rain spells.

On the first full day (Friday 25 May) we restricted ourselves to the long and winding river dikes SW of Gorzow. First the one which goes West from below Witnica, and on this one we used hours for only 2 km, with a calling Bittern every 300 meter or so. The best birds were a Penduline Tit on its long hanging nest (at N 52°40’24’’ E 14°53’41’’) and sightings of Thrush Nightingale nearby. We heard and mostly saw all the reed warblers except Aquatic Warbler. Gradually we got used to seeing relatively often such goodies as Red-backed Shrike, Crane, Black Stork, Great Reed Warbler, Garganey.

The nearby ferry was out of service because the last stretch of the road up to it was still flooded, so we drove a 6 km detour eastward, to the bridge S of Nowiny. Across this bridge we followed the southern river dike eastward. We added Red-necked Grebe NE of the hamlet of Kolczyn, where a large old reed marsh with lakes (with a flying Bittern) is at the land side of the river dike, and several Black Tern nests in the river floodplain. Reed Bunting is everywhere, and we often met whole families of Fieldfare in the large trees near the idyllic farm cottages. There is a debate in the European Union now if houses in Poland should be freely for sale to Germans etc. after Poland has joined the EU. These cottages would be an easy prey for Berliners etc. because of the enormous price difference.

On Saturday 26 May we visited Drawienski national park ('park narodowy'), 50 km NE of Gorzow. This is a heavily forested and slightly elevated area with a few lakes and a small river running the length of the park, and some small old agricultural enclaves (photo). The forest is mixed deciduous along the river, and mixed pines and deciduous elsewhere. A narrow but good road traverses most of the park. This is the first paved road on the left after you have followed the long straight stretch of road 22 from Dobiegniew. Inside the park, in the central hamlet called Glusko is a small café & office where a good 1:50.000 map of the park is for sale.

We ticked a good supply of forest birds here, including Black Woodpecker (several), Honey Buzzard, Redstart, Wood Warbler, Firecrest, Spotted and Pied Flycatcher, all 7 tits, Hawfinch, Bullfinch. We tried most of the bridges across the small river inside the forest, and were rewarded with four breeding bird specialties of this environment: Green Sandpiper, Goldeneye (3 young), Goosander, Kingfisher. Driving back along the cobblestone road West of the park we had Great Grey Shrike in the fields which reach into the forest here. Here, near the rather elevated hamlet of Radecin, it would be worthwhile to check the air above the park for Lesser Spotted Eagle (mentioned for this park on a web site) but then you may need several hours of course.

The Slonsk bird reserve is the most western and wettest part of the main goal of our trip, the lower Warta river valley. In this reserve we stayed all Sunday 27 May. A narrow concrete road runs from the NW outskirts (N 52°34’35’’ E 14° 47’18’’) of the Slonsk village for a few kms into the reserve, and for the most part you may only walk here - a glorious walk barely above the water level, in a very bird rich river wetland, alongside a creek. Here we had several pairs of Black-necked Grebe, some with young on their back. Three to four White-tailed Eagles of different age were roaming the area. Little Terns passed us close by all the time, on their way to the mixed tern and gull colonies further on. Two Wood Sandpipers were the last of many that must have been here just a month before. A Great White Egret was also present.

One km along the main road from Slonsk to the West is a small sign (at N 52°33’18’’ E 14°47’30’’) telling that something is at 2000 m from there. This is for a tall hide on a small rise inside the reserve, to be reached along a (now) driveable track. This drier border of the marsh did not produce many bird species but the multitude of singing Sky Lark is a good sign, and typically this was also the only place where we saw a few Ruff, another species which is much more numerous a month earlier.

We visited three more spots along that road from Slonsk to Kostrzyn but we didn’t see that much either. From the reserve’s information centre not far from Kostrzyn a trail leads to the right to a pond where Little Crake had been seen. A Lesser Spotted Woodpecker was in the large trees bordering this dike road through the marshes.

That night the clear weather changed and our last full day, Monday 28 May, was overcast with rain spells. Yet we we still had several stake-outs to go. The first was a site for Aquatic Warbler along a trail (starting at N 52°32’39’’ E 14°44’40’’) into the same bird reserve and from the same road as the foregoing afternoon. The low sedge habitat seemed perfect for this rare and difficult species but we didn’t get it. What we did get however, were loads of Snipe (another species that has declined so much in western Europe) and a close but safe encounter with a family of Wild Boar (with 6 piglets) walking through this wet open sedge marsh.

On we went to a site ( N 52°31’51’’ E 14°43’05’’) 2 km N of Zabice, where the small road crosses the Czerwony canal (photo), and near here we saw the promised Hoopoe in its nesting tree in the meadow, and a Barred Warbler, highly territorial and yet difficult to detect. At the same spot we also had another Great Grey Shrike.

We had our field lunch at a small lake between the low hills W of the road from Gronow to Charlow and here we got fine views of Wryneck.

Then we went on to the beautiful mixed beech forest at the border of the Warta valley bottom, between Slonsk and Lemierzyce. We had a long spell of rain here (our track starts at N 52°33’40’’ E 14°53’00’’) but the forest should be good for a/o Red-breasted Flycatcher and Black Woodpecker. A sign of the good quality of the forest were the sad road kills of martins (Martes spec.).

Finally we slowly drove the splendid river dike stretch from Slonsk to the NE (starts E of the big church) with wetlands on the river side and wet meadows and some reed beds on the other side. Despite the weather we had a nice retrospect of many species here, like Black Tern, Red-necked Grebe, Savi’s Warbler, Grasshopper Warbler. Along this dike we also saw the house of a Hoopoe Wildlife Tours and sitting in the car we read their address through the rain: hoopoe@hoopoe.com.pl and tel. +48 95 75 72 212.
A final and good addition to the list was Night Heron, sitting in the trees at the foot of the dike.

We had a fine farewell dinner at Don Vitorio in Gorzow and found it hard to leave this lovely region the next morning, when we drove back to Berlin (for our friends’ flight back to London) and on to Holland.

Below is the species list. This includes several heard-only observations, but all species were actually seen (once or more often), except Golden Oriole, Nightingale and Water Rail.


25/5 - Along the dikes of the river Warta, between Witnica and Gorzow
26/5 - Drawienski National Park (forest, streams)
27/5 - Bird reserve Slonsk in valley bottom of river Warta near mouth in Oder
28/5 - South border of Warta valley near Slonsk
sev = several
                         25/5  26/5  27/5  28/5
          Little Grebe         1                 Dodaars
   Great Crested Grebe   sev   1     4     2     Fuut
      Red-necked Grebe   3                 1     Roodhalsfuut
    Black-necked Grebe               many        Geoorde Fuut
             Cormorant   2     3     many  many  Aalscholver
               Bittern   7                 2     Roerdomp
           Night Heron                     1     Kwak
     Great White Egret               1           Grote Zilverreiger
            Grey Heron   many  2     sev   sev   Blauwe Reiger
           Black Stork   sev         sev   1     Zwarte Ooievaar
           White Stork   sev         sev   many  Ooievaar
             Mute Swan   sev         many  many  Knobbelzwaan
         Greylag Goose   4           sev         Grauwe Gans
              Shelduck               8           Bergeend
               Gadwall   sev         sev   2     Krakeend
                  Teal               4           Wintertaling
               Mallard   sev   sev   many  sev   Wilde Eend
              Garganey   many        many  many  Zomertaling
              Shoveler               sev         Slobeend
               Pochard   sev   sev   sev   sev   Tafeleend
           Tufted Duck   8     sev   sev   sev   Kuifeend
             Goldeneye   1     2           1     Brilduiker
             Goosander         1f                Grote Zaagbek
         Honey-buzzard         1                 Wespendief
            Black Kite         1                 Zwarte Wouw
              Red Kite               1           Rode Wouw
    White-tailed Eagle   1           4           Zeearend
         Marsh Harrier   4                 3     Bruine Kiekendief
           Sparrowhawk         1           pair  Sperwer
               Buzzard   sev   sev   sev   sev   Buizerd
                Osprey               1           Visarend
               Kestrel   2           1     1     Torenvalk
              Pheasant                     2     Fazant
            Water Rail   2                       Waterral
                  Coot   sev   3     many  many  Meerkoet
                 Crane   7     15    30    20+   Kraanvogel
         Oystercatcher               3           Scholekster
  Little Ringed Plover               4           Kleine Plevier
               Lapwing   6           sev   sev   Kievit
                 Snipe         1     3     many  Watersnip
   Black-tailed Godwit               3           Grutto
              Redshank               sev         Tureluur
       Green Sandpiper         2                 Witgatje
        Wood Sandpiper   3           2           Bosruiter
     Black-headed Gull   many  2     many  many  Kokmeeuw
           Common Gull               sev         Stormmeeuw
          Herring Gull               3     1     Zilvermeeuw
           Common Tern   4           many  sev   Visdief
           Little Tern               sev         Dwergstern
            Black Tern   many        many  many  Zwarte Stern
            Stock dove   4     2     2           Holenduif
           Wood Pigeon   sev   sev   sev   sev   Houtduif
         Collared Dove   sev   sev   sev   sev   Turkse tortel
           Turtle Dove         2                 Zomertortel
                Cuckoo   3     sev         4     Koekoek
                 Swift   3     sev         sev   Gierzwaluw
            Kingfisher         3                 IJsvogel
                Hoopoe                     1     Hop
               Wryneck                     1     Draaihals
      Black Woodpecker         3                 Zwarte Specht
Great Spotted Woodpecker 1     sev         1     Grote Bonte Specht
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker            1           Kleine Bonte Specht
              Sky Lark   3     2     sev   many  Veldleeuwerik
           Sand Martin                     sev   Oeverzwaluw
          Barn Swallow   sev   sev   sev   sev   Boerenzwaluw
          House Martin   sev   sev   sev   sev   Huiszwaluw
            Tree Pipit         2           1     Boompieper
          Meadow Pipit   2                       Graspieper
        Yellow Wagtail   7+          many  sev   Gele Kwikstaart
         White Wagtail   6     sev   sev   sev   Witte Kwikstaart
                  Wren         sev               Winterkoning
                 Robin         sev               Roodborst
    Thrush Nightingale   sev               2     Noordse Nachtegaal
           Nightingale   1     1           1     Nachtegaal
        Black Redstart   1     1     2     2     Zwarte Roodstaart
              Redstart         1                 Gekraagde Roodstaart
              Whinchat   3     1     4     4     Paapje
             Blackbird   1     sev         sev   Merel
             Fieldfare   20+   sev   sev   sev   Kramsvogel
           Song Thrush         5                 Zanglijster
         Mistle Thrush         1                 Grote Lijster
   Grasshopper Warbler   3                 1     Sprinkhaanzanger
         River Warbler   1                 (24/5)Krekelzanger
        Savi's Warbler   3                 2     Snor
         Sedge Warbler   sev         2     many  Rietzanger
         Marsh Warbler   sev               2     Bosrietzanger
          Reed Warbler   sev               sev   Kleine Karekiet
    Great Reed Warbler   7     4           1     Grote Karekiet
      Icterine Warbler   4                 1     Spotvogel
        Barred Warbler                     2     Sperwergrasmus
    Lesser Whitethroat   1     1     1     3     Braamsluiper
           Whitethroat   sev   5     sev   sev   Grasmus
        Garden Warbler   2     3           1     Tuinfluiter
              Blackcap   1     1           1     Zwartkop
          Wood Warbler         sev               Fluiter
            Chiffchaff   4     sev         1     Tjiftjaf
        Willow Warbler   sev   sev         2     Fitis
             Goldcrest         3                 Goudhaan
             Firecrest         5                 Vuurgoudhaan
    Spotted Flycatcher   3     sev               Grauwe Vliegenvanger
       Pied Flycatcher         2                 Bonte Vliegenvanger
           Bearded Tit   2                       Baardman
       Long-tailed Tit         sev   1           Staartmees
             Marsh Tit         3                 Glanskop
            Willow Tit   1     3     2           Matkop
           Crested Tit         2                 Kuifmees
              Coal Tit         4                 Zwarte Mees
              Blue Tit   1     sev   2           Pimpelmees
             Great Tit   1     sev               Koolmees
              Nuthatch         4                 Boomklever
Short-toed Treecreeper   2     4     1     1     Boomkruiper
         Penduline Tit   sev                     Buidelmees
         Golden Oriole   1                       Wielewaal
     Red-backed Shrike   8     5     sev   sev   Grauwe Klauwier
     Great Grey Shrike         1           1     Klapekster
                   Jay         2                 Vlaamse Gaai
                Magpie   sev   3           sev   Ekster
               Jackdaw   3     5                 Kauw
           Hooded Crow   many  sev   sev   sev   Bonte Kraai
                 Raven   6     sev   many        Raaf
              Starling   sev   many  many  many  Spreeuw
         House Sparrow   sev   sev   sev   sev   Huismus
          Tree Sparrow   4                 1     Ringmus
             Chaffinch   sev   many  2           Vink
                 Serin         1 at hotel        Europese Kanarie
            Greenfinch   5     1           6     Groenling
             Goldfinch   sev   6           2     Putter
                Linnet               2           Kneu
               Redpoll                           Barmsijs
      Common Rosefinch   2                 2     Roodmus
             Bullfinch         3                 Goudvink
              Hawfinch         4           1     Appelvink
          Yellowhammer   sev   sev   sev   many  Geelgors
       Ortolan Bunting   1                       Ortolaan
          Reed Bunting   many        sev   sev   Rietgors
          Corn Bunting   2                 sev   Grauwe Gors