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There are few placesleft in Europe that canclaim to be largelyuntouched by the stampedeof human kind. TheBialowieza Forest in Poland is one suchplace, tucked away on the easternmostfringes of Europe and straddling Poland'sborder with Belorussia. Within this vasttract of mixed forest lie 47.5 squarekilometres of untouched primevalwoodland, the largest remaining tract lefton the continent and a UNESCO WorldBiosphere Reserve. Outside the StrictReserve, as it is known locally, themanaged portion of Bialowieza covers afurther 580 square kilometres, a mosaic ofmature and young woodland, riverinemarshes, willow thickets and wet meadowsthat combine to create one of Europe'smost important bird habitats.Many of Europe's wildlife-rich areas aresynonymous with particular families orspecies of animals and birds. The SpanishSteppes have their bustards, the Pyreneesare famous for Wallcreepers and for thebirdwatcher, thoughts of the BialowiezaForest immediately bring to mind thecarpenters of the bird world, thewoodpeckers. Here, all 10 of Europe'swoodpecker species can be found withvarying ease and, with the invaluable helpof the local birdwatchers who scour theforests each spring, we will endeavour totrack down as many as we can during thisexciting Naturetrek weekend. We begin our holiday with a flight toWarsaw, the historic capital of Poland.From here we drive north-east to the smallvillage of Bialowieza, where we will bebased for three nights in a comfortablehotel on the edge of the village. For thenext two full days we will explore theforests and marshes of the BialowiezaForest, walking the trails that criss-crossthis magnificent mixed woodland. By earlyMay the forests will be alive with bird songas wave after wave of returning migrantsstake their claims for the year. Collared,Pied and Red-breasted Flycatchers allbreed here, along with Thrush Nightingale,Redstart, and both Icterine and WoodWarbler. Within this chorus of sound wewill be listening out for the characteristicnotes of the woodpeckers, from theexplosive laugh of the mighty BlackWoodpecker to the falcon-like chittering ofthe Lesser-spotted Woodpecker. White-backed Woodpeckers are early nestersand may already be feeding large young,and we hope to be able to locate the mostelusive and sought-after of the Picidaefamily, the unobtrusive Three-toedWoodpecker. A sudden flurry of wings andleaves may herald an escaping HazelGrouse, while other birds to look for, inand over trees, include Nutcracker,Crossbill, Hawfinch, White Stork, LesserSpotted Eagle, and even perhaps PygmyOwl on an evening foray. Outside the trueforest lies the 'Palace Park', another veryproductive area to explore. Here apatchwork of open woodlands, grassylawns and small lakes provides habitat forMiddle Spotted and Grey-headedWoodpeckers and Wryneck. The park isalso the one place to search for the SyrianWoodpecker, the most difficult of thebunch to find and, although expandingnorth, on the very edge of its breedingrange. Early one morning we will be escorted intothe Strict Reserve, Bialowieza's trueprimeval forest. Here we will have a uniqueopportunity to explore a habitat largelyuntouched by human hands. Indeed, awalk amongst the swampy alder woodsand ancient Limes, Hornbeams, Oaks andSpruces, with our guide talking through theecology en route, is a truly magicalexperience and, for some, will be theundoubted highlight of this short tour. If time permits we may also drive north toexplore the woodlands and marshes in thevicinity of Siemianówka Reservoir. LakeSiemianówka is a superb area of openwater and marsh, formed by the dammingof the Narew River, and holds a richassemblage of resident and migrant birdspecies, including White-tailed Eagle,Citrine Wagtail, passage waders, marshterns and grebes. The surrounding forestsare also another excellent place in whichto look for a few more woodpeckers, inparticular Three-toed. Back in Bialowieza, and if fortunate, we may find one of the forest's mostfamous inhabitants, the European Bison or Wisent. This magnificent mammalbecame extinct in the wild in the 1920s,but was successfully reintroduced into theforest 30 years later. Today the BialowiezaForest contains one of Europe's lastremaining herds, with approximately 250Bison ranging freely within the Polishsection. If we are lucky enough to comeacross one during our time here, it willundoubtedly provide yet another highlight,and an added bonus, to our short butvaried birdwatching weekend. Poland's Primeval ForestsA long-weekend spring break in search of the woodpeckers and other birdlife in Poland's magnificent Bialowieza Forest.Friday 3rd May - Monday 6th May Cost: £795Outline itineraryDay 1Fly Warsaw and transferBialowieza.Day 2/3Bialowieza Forest.Day 4Transfer to Warsaw andfly London. AccommodationComfortable hotel with privatefacilities. FoodAll included in the price.GradingDay walks only. Grade A.FocusBirds and mammals. LeaderRichard Bashford.Single room supplement£80.Web quick search: POL01106Call now or visit www.naturetrek.co.ukfor your free Trip ItineraryRUSSIABELORUSSIAGERMANYSLOVAKIAUKRAINEWARSAWGDANSKBALTIC COASTHEL PENINSULAVISTULA BAYBIEBRZABASINBIALOWIEZAFORESTBALTIC SEAPOLANDVISTULARIVERThree-toed WoodpeckerWhite-winged TernCollared Flycatcher

The extensive forests and marshes ofeastern Poland have long been afavourite of birdwatchers. This popularspring tour focuses on two of the country'svery best wildlife reserves, the primevalforests of Bialowieza and the extensivemarshlands and floodplains of the BiebrzaNational Park. Within these two contrastingareas we hope to enjoy such avian delightsas Aquatic Warbler, Citrine Wagtail,displaying Great Snipe, Pygmy Owl,Spotted Eagle and up to eight species ofwoodpecker! In May the forests ofBialowieza will be alive with birdsong asnewly arrived warblers and flycatcherscompete for territory, whilst the adjacent wetmeadows echo to the bizarre 'crex crex' callof the Corncrake and all three species ofmarsh tern hawk for insects over theflooded fields that edge the Biebrza River.As we explore these pristine habitats wemay be silently - and unknowingly -watched by a Wolf or Lynx, both of whichstill patrol the forests, or perhaps comeacross a small herd of European Bisonwhich are being increasingly recorded inthe spring by our groups. Indeed, althoughbirds will certainly take centre stage on thisholiday, we will not ignore Poland's wealthof other wildlife which should include Elk,European Beaver and perhaps Wild Boar,plus an interesting variety of butterflies,dragonflies and plants. We begin our holiday with a flight toWarsaw from where we will drive east to theBialowieza Forest, close to the Belarusborder. This forest complex covers a totalof 1,250 square kilometres of land straddling the border of Poland andBelarus. Of this, 580 square kilometres liewithin Poland and hold some of Europe'slast remaining true primeval lowland mixedforest. It is home to over 200 species ofbirds and one of Europe's last herds ofWisent, the rare European Bison. Othermammals include both Lynx and Wolfalthough we would be very fortunateindeed to find either of these. During our 4-night stay here we will visit the famousBialowieza National Park, 471/2squarekilometres of magnificent untouchedlowland forest. The swampy alder woods,old limes, oaks and hornbeams are trulyimpressive and important enough to haveearned its selection as a UNESCO WorldHeritage Site and Biosphere Reserve. Inthe spring, the forest will be alive with thedrumming of woodpeckers, White-backedand Black included, and the songs of awide variety of other birds.We will also explore the vast managedforests, home of such species as PygmyOwl, Three-toed Woodpecker, Nutcrackerand the elusive Hazelhen. The marshesand meadows surrounding the NarwekaRiver hold a healthy population ofCorncrakes, together with Lesser SpottedEagles, Scarlet Rosefinches, and Barred,River and Marsh Warblers, whilst a walkaround the 'Palace Park' should addThrush Nightingale, Icterine Warbler andWryneck to our list. If there is one family ofbirds that epitomises the Bialowieza Forestfor birdwatchers then it has to be thewoodpeckers, and with careful searchingwe have every chance of leaving withsightings of no less than eight species -Green, Grey-headed, Black, Great Spotted,Middle Spotted, Lesser Spotted, White-backed and Three-toed - an impressivetally to rival any site in Europe!We will then head north-west to our basefor the latter part of the holiday, the BiebrzaMarshes. En route we will visitSiemianówka Reservoir, a superb area ofopen water and marshes formed by thedamming of the River Narew. Both Red-necked and Black-necked Grebes arecommon on the water, whilst over it hunt allthree marsh terns (Black, Whiskered andthe beautiful White-winged Tern).Continuing north-west we will stop in theNarew Valley where we will take a shortboat ride into the maze of Okavango-like,reed-fringed backwaters that constitute theNarwianski Landscape Park. From here it isonly a short drive to our second base in theheart of the Biebrza basin.The Biebrza Marshes extend along themeandering River Biebrza between thetowns of Augustów and Lomza. This vastarea, a mosaic of marshes, ponds, wetmeadows, reedbeds and alder woodlands,makes up the largest continuous expanseof riverine marshland left in Europe. IfBialowieza conjures up visions ofwoodpeckers then, for the birdwatcher,Biebrza brings to mind pictures of GreatSnipe and Aquatic Warbler. At dusk theGreat Snipe move onto their lek site andduring at least one evening we too willmove in to watch the display unfold.Indeed, at this site there will be theopportunity to see all three Europeanspecies of snipe - Great, Common andJack - plus their close relative, theWoodcock. We will also search the sedgebeds and wet meadows for AquaticWarbler and during our stay in the marsheshope to see such species as Great Reed,River, Savi's, Grasshopper and MarshWarblers, Bluethroat, Penduline Tit, BlackGrouse, Spotted Eagle, Bittern, Crane,Little Crake, plus breeding Ruff and White-winged Tern. Elk are also common in themarshes and we will have every chance offinding one of these magnificent cervidsbefore being forced to head back toWarsaw for our flight home.Poland in SpringAn 8-day birdwatching tour focusing on two of Europe's most unique and precioushabitats, the famous Bialowieza Forest and Biebrza Marshes. Saturday 18th May - Saturday 25th May Cost: £1,295Book direct on 01962 733051or see page 284 for Booking InformationRUSSIABELORUSSIAGERMANYSLOVAKIAUKRAINEWARSAWGDANSKBALTIC COASTHEL PENINSULAVISTULA BAYBIEBRZABASINNAREW VALLEYBIALOWIEZAFORESTBALTIC SEAPOLANDVISTULARIVEROutline itineraryDay 1Fly Warsaw andovernight Bialowieza.Day 2/4Bialowieza Forest.Day 5/7Biebrza Marshes.Day 8Transfer to Warsaw andfly London.AccommodationComfortable east European hotels,each room with private facilities.FoodAll included in the price.GradingA. Day walks only.FocusBirds and larger mammals.LeaderPeter Dunn, plus local guides.Single room supplement£160.ExtensionsSightseeing extensions in Warsawand Kracow can be arranged.Web quick search: POL03107Biebrza MarshesCorncrakeWhite-backedWoodpecker