Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Destinations: Bialowieza Forest - Poland

The Bialowieza forest's abundant flycatchers, owls, woodpeckers and raptors and its almost mythical status as Europe’s last stand of virgin forest (though this is not entirely true) are a "must-see". Actually, there are two parts to this forest: the strict reserve of the old-growth forest and the “managed” forest. The old-growth forest is a wonderful and atmospheric place but the key birds occur in both areas and indeed some, such as Hazel Grouse, are often easier to find in the managed sections. The old forest consists of oak, lime, hornbeam, ash and spruce, much dying and fallen wood and swampy areas with alder and pine. In spring this is particularly good for Collared and Red-breasted Flycatchers and Black, Middle Spotted and White-backed Woodpeckers. There are also open meadow areas, clearings and marshes along several streams and the River Narewka. Birds of prey at Bialowieza include Honey Buzzard, Montagu's Harrier and Short-toed, Booted and Lesser Spotted Eagles. Pygmy Owl, Three-toed Woodpecker, Crested Tit and Nutcracker favour the extensive spruce forests. The Palace Park at Bialowieza is the home of the National Park HQ, a hotel and Grey-headed Woodpecker, Wryneck, Thrush Nightingale, Icterine Warbler, both Collared and Pied Flycatchers and Red-backed Shrike. This is a vast and rich area deserving a stay of several days at least. The best time to visit is from the end of April into June, although woodpeckers and owls are more active and thus easier early on in the year. Some migrants may only return in late May. This can be a harsh place in winter though some forest birds, as well as large mammals, may be more confiding. Bialowieza lies on the border with Belorussia in the very east of Poland 222 km from Warsaw. The town of Hajnowka sits at its western edge. The strictly protected zone of the NP can be entered only with a guide which the park HQ can arrange more or less on the spot. Most of the managed forest can be explored at will, though there are some closed reserve sections. The road from Hajnowka to Bialowieza village cuts right through the forest and a surprising amount can be seen along this route and the tracks branching off it.

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