Saturday, June 8, 2024

Poland - Aquatic Warblers and more

I recently returned from a short work visit to Poland, with Amir Balaban. This trip was organised with OTOP, to learn about their excellent conservation work, focused on restoration, and develop collaborations. Despite all the photos, videos and sound recordings that appear below, it really was a work trip, honest! Luckily our work includes field visits, so when a group of birders meet up, and excellent birds are plentiful, sometimes meetings get a little shorter... 

Our trip started on Sunday, June 2nd. After picking up the rental car in Warsaw we headed straight to Biebrza marshes. Our first stop was at Dluga Lake, the classic spot for Aquatic Warbler. 

Such a great habitat, lots of birds singing - I especially enjoyed the snipes in display flight. Despite the less-than-ideal time of day, quickly we heard our first singing male, and soon spotted it singing from the top of a tall grass blade - fantastic!

Clarification: Bimbo is a term used by Spanish birders for lifer. Indeed, Aquatic Warbler was a global lifer for me.

We then continued to the OTOP reserve of Mscichy that is carefully managed specially to create optimal conditions for Aquatic Warbler. Superb example of habitat restoration. It was raining most of the time, and the tall grass was very wet. We finished our session there soaked to the bone, but it was certainly worth it. More encounters with Aquatic Warblers, still not best photos but lovely views and I love their song.

Amir doing his stuff

Next morning (June 3rd) we returned early to Mscichy to improve our views and maybe get some decent photos of Aquatic Warbler. Coming from the hot Middle east, I am used to birds peaking their daily activity in the early morning. But Aquatic Warbler in Poland isn't like that! In fact the morning session was much quieter, with less activity. Still, so many great birds around (River Warbler, Common Rosefinch etc.) that it was highly enjoyable. Habitat photo by Thomas Krumenacker:

Aquatic Warbler in its habitat - they often sing from a tall grass blade:

I was intrigued by this singing Common Rosefinch, clearly a 2cy. It was singing non-stop and being very territorial, but without a hint of pink plumage. The slow plumage development of Common Rosefinch is known and correlated with song development - see this article

Later on we continued to the watch tower at Bialy Grad trail - lots of good birds on the marsh there, including Black and White-winged Terns.

In the morning of June 4th we visited a state-protected old growth forest in the Lublin region. It was truly majestic, and full of birds, mosquitoes and fungi. Thanks Jarek for the help in identifying non-birds! Red-breasted, Collared and Pied Flycatchers, Gray-headed Woodpeckers, Wood Warblers etc. - superb.

Fuligo septica

Pluteus leoninus

Gray-headed Woodpecker in its nest

Red-backed Shrike

I believe I can fly! (Roe Deer)

A study visit to another restored OTOP reserve, Krowie Bagno, was very interesting regarding hydrology and vegetation management. The boggy mire is full of life, small and large. Great Snipe and Corn Crake were among the excellent birds seen and heard there.

Very cool meat-eating plant - Drosera rotundifolia

I think this is a Bog Fritillary

In the evening it was time for main dish. We headed over to THE prime location for Aquatic Warbler in Lublin area - another chunk of OTOP-managed land, Serebryskie Bagno. It is slightly drier there, resulting in less competition with Sedge Warbler. Aquatic Warblers were so plentiful and active in the evening, in beautiful restored habitat. I split away from the group to spend quality solo time with these globally-threatened birds. It was awesome. I sat down, surrounded between four different males, serenading to each other. The air was still. The light was golden. Meadow Pipits singing in the background. I felt complete.

That median crown stripe

Bombina Bombina - the scientific name is so much cooler than the English name (European Fire-bellied Toad)

Early Marsh-Orchid

Then it was back to Warsaw for two days of meetings and events:

Of course, the visit to Warsaw included exploration of some of its fine urban wildlife sites. We joined a research team working on Mandarin Ducks in the Royal Palace Park, and wandered around the wild Jewish cemetery. 

The final new bird species for the trip was Common Redstart - I was pleasantly surprised to find them breeding inside the city. eBird trip report is here here - 130 species in total which is quite OK I think.

And that was that. Huge thanks to our hosts from OTOP - Iza, Jarek, Staszek, Slava, Łukasz, Krzysztof. Also Viktar and Thomas that joined us contributed greatly to the trip. It was awesome! And Amir... Till next time.