Just got back from a long weekend to NW Poland, around the Szczecin and Swinoujscie area. Despite only managing one full day birding (Sunday 16.7.00), plus a few hours in the evening of Saturday 15.7.00 and a brief excursion on 17.7.00, I managed some great birds, largely thanks to excellent field assistance from local birders Pawel Jablonsky, Piotr Tadeusz and Pawel Palasz.
Sincere thanks also to all the following who provided me with a great deal of help and information on the lead up to the trip: Matthias Fehlow, Jochen Roeder (who sent me enough info on the Greifswald area of NE Germany for a separate holiday of its own!), Ingrid Balzer, Felix Jachmann, Pawel Sidlo (OTOP), Jonathan (at Greifswald), Jerzy Dyczkowski, Dariusz Wysocki, Christopher Engelhardt, Jacek Kaliciuk. Mikkel Kure Jakobsen, Reinhard Eckstein, Bill Smith and Roderich Moessner. I wasn't able to use anywhere near all the information provided by these kind people, but this is safely filed away for a future trip!
We flew on the morning of Saturday 15.7.00 from London Stansted (depart 06:40) to Lübeck airport near Hamburg in northern Germany (arrive 09:20) with Ryanair (UKP 55 each for the return flight).
We hired a Fiat Punto from Hertz. I'm still awaiting confirmation of the final price of this. but I think it's DM 105. If you do a similar trip from Germany, make sure you are allowed to take the car over the border to Poland. Many companies will not allow this, and Hertz would only do so provided the car wasn't a BMW, Mercedes or a convertible, because of the risk of theft.
We drove on the autobahn past Berlin, and up to cross the border at Szczecin. We were delayed a few times along the way, and eventually met with local birder Pawel Palasz at around 16:30 for some local birding. As it got dark we pressed on to the very pleasant and relaxed resort town of Miedzyzdroje, where we stayed for the next 2 nights at the Hotel Slavia (Zloty 250 per room per night inc. excellent breakfast).
On Sunday 16.7.00 I went birding all day with local birders Pawel Jablonsky and Piotr Tadeusz, firstly at the Karsiborska Kepa reserve near Swinoujscie, then at various sites through the Wolin National Park to Kamien Pomorski, south through Sibin and Wolin to Swieta and Stepnica before returning to Miedzyzdroje. Sara spent the day exploring Miedzyzdroje and enjoying the glorious sunny weather.
On Monday 17.7.00 we returned leisurely to Lübeck, arriving in plenty of time for the 18:45 flight back to Stansted, arriving at 19:25.
I had 3 target birds for the trip and managed good views of 2 of them and a brief but sadly untickable glimpse of the third. The main target bird was Aquatic Warbler (Acrocephalus paludicola), and after several hours hunting for this bird with Pawel Jablonsky at the OTOP reserve at Karsiborska Kepa, we eventually managed to find and get excellent views of 2 singing birds. We were searching mid-morning, and they are likely to be much easier in the evening, although we were very lucky that it was a nice sunny still day - they are much harder to find in windy or wet conditions.
Karsiborska Kepa is probably the best site in this area for this bird, although they can also be found in a few other places nearby. However this was a bad year for this species, due to very dry conditions early in the breeding season. Gerard Gorman (Where to watch birds in Eastern Europe) talks about 300 breeding pairs at KK, although Pawel, the OTOP warden here, believes that as few as 15 pairs bred here this year, down significantly even on the estimate of 50 pairs in 1999.
The best area to find these birds is the eastern part of the reserve, i.e. away from the entrance and observation tower. Park the car at the entrance of the reserve, and walk down the main track. Don't take the track to the left towards the observation tower, but follow the track around to the right along a dyke overlooking large expanses of reed beds. This track was very overgrown with reeds and long grass in July and pretty hard going in places.
Eventually you will reach a brick pumphouse, overlooking an area on your left of sedge and grasses with much fewer reeds - this is the best area to look for the AW. Thanks to Mikkel and Jonathan for the excellent directions! We picked up two separate birds by their short buzzy song, singing quite low down on grass stems. They stayed put for a reasonable length of time and gave good views. Most of the breeding birds have been colour-ringed - if you see any send your records to OTOP.
The birds are also suffering from habitat degradation here - they primarily breed in sedge and are not fond of reeds, which are gradually taking over the area, reducing prime habitat for the AW. Sadly OTOP does not have the necessary funds for the extensive programme of reed removal required to improve the quality of breeding habitat here.
The other highlight of the trip was Corncrake (Crex crex). On 16.7.00 Pawel and Piotr took me, among other places, to a site between Szczecin and Swinoujscie, where we heard a Corncrake calling several times from tall grass quite near an overgrown track, relatively early in the afternoon (about 4 p.m.).
As the site was only a short detour from my route back on 17.7.00 I decided to pay a repeat visit, as I had never heard this bird before, and wanted to hear more if possible. The timing wasn't brilliant, about 9.30 a.m., but as I walked up the path towards where it had been calling the previous day, to my disbelief the bird flushed alongside me from long grass about 4 metres from the path, flew a short way further along, where it landed out of sight again in more long grass, and started calling. Quite superb and totally unexpected!
I hadn't intended to get quite so close to one, so I beat a hasty retreat to avoid further disturbance, and when I'd got round the corner and out of sight, I waited and listened to it calling for a bit longer. Before the trip I would have been very happy just to hear one - to see one was absolutely brilliant. Interestingly, the call it made just after flushing was very different to that it made afterwards, and the previous day - much harsher and more strident - some sort of "warning off" call, as opposed to the normal "marking my territory" call?
The third target bird for the trip was Lesser Spotted Eagle (Aquila pomarina). After a good deal of searching and a few false alarms, we did manage a very brief view of one which flew over the road and disappeared behind some trees not far from the village of Sibin, south of Kamien Pomorski. Sadly it didn't reappear, and the view was too brief to be able to tick it, but I wasn't complaining too much.
The supporting cast was also pretty good - Little Bittern at Swidwie (NW of Szczecin), Black-necked Grebes at Police, Red-breasted Flycatcher at Wolin National Park on the outskirts of Miedzyzdroje, 3 separate Goshawks, 4 Marsh Harriers, Red and Black Kites, plenty of Red-backed Shrikes, Tree Sparrows, Corn Buntings, Yellowhammers and other farmland birds, Black Redstart, Hooded Crow, Blue-headed and White Wagtails, a huge colony of tree-nesting Cormorants near Swieta, White and Black Storks, and heard records of Crane, Golden Oriole, Bearded Tit, Savi's and Grasshopper Warblers.
All in all, a very successful and pleasant short break, and I can't wait to visit Poland again soon!
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