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Warta Mouth NP, Western Poland

5 - 9 May 2011 & 1 - 2 July 2012

By Stephen Burch, England

I've been on business to Berlin a few times recently, but early May was the first time I was going to be there at an 'interesting' time of year. So being used to combining business with a spot of birding afterwards, well in advance I set about trying to work out where best to go. There seems very little information (in English at least) on birding in Germany, and I was tempted by the idea of making a first visit to Poland. The world famous sites in eastern Poland were far too distant, so I settled on the much less well known Warta Mouth NP area of western Poland. This is within very convenient striking distance of Berlin and sounded to be a good birdy area, with the prospect of some eastern species I'd never seen before (e.g. Savi's, River & Barred Warblers).

The timing of this visit was dictated by my business trip, and I think proved to be rather too early for many of the summer migrants I was hoping for. Nevertheless the weather was superb and I managed to connect with one lifer and a reasonable range of notable species. This was my first experience of visiting an eastern European country, and may serve as a taster for future trips. As I was on my own, fairly early starts and the occasional late finish were not a problem!

This part of Poland turned out to be quite a 'manageable' area for a solo self guided trip, with plentiful infrastructure in the form of modern supermarkets, petrol stations, ATMs etc. I stayed in a small hotel in Slonsk, right at the centre of the area, which was perfectly adequate - see the comments on accommodation at the end of this report for more details. A little English was spoken, but often I had to get by with a few words of German, but this presented no great difficulties. I still hardly know a word of Polish, even after this trip! There were a few other birders around in the watery Slonsk areas, but I think all were Polish. The other areas were quite quiet, and had only a few locals, mainly fishermen.

I have now also paid a second very brief (c. 24hr) visit to this region, in July 2012. The timing of this visit  was again dictated by a business trip to Berlin, and was considerably later in the season - probably too late as it turned out. The optimum time appears to be a narrow window between about mid May and mid June. Earlier than that and all the migrants have not yet arrived (as I found on my first visit) and later than that birds are less vocal and more difficult to see (as on my second visit!). For more details on my second visit, see below for the 2012 update.

I also visited this area briefly in May/June 2014, together with the Brandenburg region of Germany.

Car hire
Checking rates in advance, Hertz seemed to offering cost effective car hire from Tegel airport which is where I collected & returned the vehicle. In the event, the additional price of 'super cover' at over 20 euros a day was substantial. I also made the financially disastrous error of missing the petrol station on my return to the airport, which resulted in quite exorbitant charge for re-fuelling! I will do my best never to do that again!

The drive from Tegel airport to Slonsk took about 2.5 hours with quiet roads on the way out, but on the way back I got bogged down in very heavy traffic round Berlin, mid afternoon. The other Berlin airport - Schoneberg would be better for accessing this area of Poland - via the fast A10/E30.

2012 update: I again used Hertz but from Schoneberg airport, and I made very sure I filled up with fuel before returning the car!

There are supposed to be good 1:100,000 maps of Poland, but I was unable to find a source for them in England, and ended up managing reasonably well with a Michelin 1:300,000 map (556 Poland North West) from Stanfords. This was OK, once you learnt that the "solid" white roads existed, but by and large, the dashed ones didn't! Also I took some handy printouts from Google maps.

Birding information
This area has a brief mention in Gerard Gorman's excellent book on 'Birding in Eastern Europe', but this lacks any real site information. Fortunately, extensive pre-trip trawling of the web turned up a small number of very useful birders' trip reports. Thanks to all those who took the time to compose these.

The weather was stunningly sunny almost throughout, with hardly a cloud in the sky from dawn to dusk. This made for a wide diurnal temperature variation, with a frost on my first morning, rising to the mid 20's by mid afternoon! Only on one day was there some cloud during part of the day.

2012 update: The weather wasn't as good, with more cloud and less sun. There had clearly been recent heavy rains, as there large pools/puddles on all the tracks. Also many of the canals were much fuller than in May 2011.

All the pics shown below were taken with my lighter DSLR equipment - Canon EOS 7D with EF400mm/f5.6 lens, usually mounted on a tripod - apart from the flight shots. With my current back problem, it regrettably seemed prudent to leave the heavier EF400mm/f4 DO behind - and I did miss the x1.4TC at times. All pics were taken in RAW format, and I use NeatImage for noise suppression, with PhotoShop Elements 3.0 for subsequent processing. For further details see the equipment and image processing pages elsewhere on this website.

2012 update: I took the Canon EOS 7D and the EF400mm/f4 DO with the x1.4TC.

This map below shows most of the sites mentioned in this report:

This map shows the extent of the national park "Ujscie Warty" in somewhat more detail:

1. Concrete road NW of Slonsk (Betonka)
This is probably the premier birding site in the region. To locate it, turn into Slonsk at the roundabout on the busy route 22. Follow this straight road through the houses towards the church. When the road does a slight bend to the left, somewhat before the church, take the small turning on the left. Go past what looks like a fire station on your left to a T junction. Turning right there was a White Stork's nest on a pole almost immediately on the left! It later emerged that there were White Stork nests all over Slonsk and many other villages in the area as well.

Then go through the settlement of Przyborow. Avoid the obvious cul de sac ahead by turning left. Then follow the helpful sign to your right. However, if you miss this sign and carry straight-on you get into a pleasant area which ends at a sewage works with distant views of the marshes. However the field before the sewage works had on various occasions Wheatear, Black Redstart, Whinchat and Corn Bunting:

Corn Bunting on a bush in the early morning light

Returning to the right turn you should have taken leads directly onto the start of the famous concrete road. You can drive along here a bit, through an avenue of trees past some marshy pools, mainly on the left. These had plenty of Wood Sandpiper, the odd Blue-headed Wagtail and an obliging pair of White Stork a little further on:

White Stork
White Storks on nest in Slonsk - click to enlarge White Storks over the marshes
White Stork
White Storks by the concrete road- click right to enlarge

The drive-able section of the concrete roads ends at a car park used extensively by fishermen from dawn till dusk at least. This whole place was extremely busy with locals in the fine weather at the weekend, but quieter on Friday and Monday when I walked along the concrete road to the bridge at the far end and had the place almost to myself. At the bridge there are then signs saying don't go any further, and NP patrols appear from time to time, probably checking on such things! The water came nearly up to the edges of the concrete road, which was only ever a few feet above the water level. In wetter springs I assume this road can easily be flooded.

Panorama at the start of the concrete road from the car park

The birding highlights of the concrete road included plentiful migrant waders, including numerous Wood Sandpipers, summer plumage Ruff, Whimbrel, Spotted Redshank, Greenshank and Redshank. Terns were also showing well, including all three marsh terns (Black, White-winged Black and Whiskered) as well as Common and Little Terns. There were plenty of newly arrived Gargeney around, one Ruddy Shelduck and a few winter duck still. Overhead I saw a single Black Stork (the only one of my visit), flocks of honking Cranes and a few White-tailed Eagles. Unfortunately most of these birds were too distant for good photos, but that didn't stop me trying! The only close bird was a Swallow on the bridge at the far end. Nevertheless, all in all this was a very worthwhile place to visit.

A fly by summer plumage Ruff Distant White-winged Black Tern

Overhead Black Tern

Little Tern
Black Stork record shot White-tailed Eagle record shot
Close up Swallow - click to enlarge Female Hairy Dragonfly

2. Pumping Station road NE of Slonsk
This site is very close to the concrete road and has similar species, which tend to be even more distant. To reach it, follow the road in Slonsk from the roundabout up to the church and then past it to the right. Go past some ruins, and then turn left at the handy pumping station sign. This starts as a broad track. At the edge of Slonsk on this track I stopped to investigate what sounded very like Nightingale song and managed glimpses of it. Unfortunately I am fairly sure this bird, and many others in the area were 'just' ordinary Nightingales and not Thrush Nightingales, which were mentioned in at least one other trip report and would have been a lifer! [This identification is supported by the Gerard Gorman book, which states that, in Poland, Thrush Nightingales are found well to the east of this area].

Just beyond the pumping station there is a building with signs for Hoopoe tours and the track gets much narrower and runs along a dyke. I did drive a way along here, but it was difficult to find a place to turn around, and there was always a chance of meeting oncoming traffic which would have been awkward! My far point was where an obvious track headed N across the marshes from the dyke. This was partially flooded but I waded along it a bit, surrounded by wet fields containing numerous but distant Cranes, White Storks, waders (including Black tailed Godwit and Wood Sandpiper), Gargeney etc. On the drier side of the dyke there were reeds containing skulking Great Reed Warblers. Whitethroats and Blackcaps were everywhere. Also Cuckoo.

3. Dabroszyn
This nice site is mentioned in another trip report. The village of Dabroszyn is on the 132 east of Kostrzyn. Coming from this town, turn right down the initially cobbled road before the church. This soon turns into a track that goes over the railway. The area where the track runs through the marshes was a very accessible and delightful spot. I visited it several times during my stay at various times of the day from reasonably early morning through to dusk which was probably the best time. Savi's Warblers (a lifer) were particularly obvious at this site, with several singing at different places along the track before the picnic area. This is also reported to be a site for River and Barred Warblers, but to my regret I did not see or hear either and concluded they had not yet arrived. Other notables present here included a Wryneck calling from the trees by the canal and Bittern booming in a marsh to the right. The 'usual' White Stork, Cranes and Greylag Geese were also present. At dusk and early morning, there were drumming Snipe and the Savi's Warblers became even more obvious. I also caught a glimpse of an aquatic mammal, either Otter or Beaver, I guess.

On my dusk visit, I managed to get most of the photos below. The Savi's Warbler is nicely illuminated by the very last rays of the setting sun!

Savi's Warbler
Savi's Warbler at sunset (click left to enlarge)
Another shot of the sunset Savi's Warbler During the day and into the light, but in more typical reeds

Drumming Snipe at dusk
Sunset at Dabroszyn

In this area, there is a similar track a bit further E that heads off the 132 from Kamien Maly (past the railway 'station'), which had similar species and also Great Reed Warbler. This goes all the way to the river, where there is a picnic table and distant views of Great White Egret. But it was a longer and very bumpy track, so I didn't try it more than once.

4. Kolczyn
This tiny hamlet is not to confused with the town of Kostrzyn! Kolczyn is somewhat to the east, and outside the NP. It is marked on the 1:300,000 Michelin map, and the Google map above. The turn to it is signed off the 22. The site of interest is the track that leads along the dyke that runs to the NE of the hamlet. This was another good spot, with the riverside marshes to the left and reedy pools to the right, after about 1km. I paid two visits here, once driving along the track. The second time I walked which was more productive. White Storks and Cranes were very evident here, including one which flew over the dyke quite near to me (see below). There were Marsh Harriers over the reed beds and smaller birds included Cuckoo and Grasshopper Warbler. A Bittern boomed briefly in the distance. Also Savi's Warbler heard but not seen, I think. On the wetter side were several Gargeney.

Crane over the dyke at Kolczyn (click right to enlarge)
Grasshopper Warbler
Grasshopper Warbler briefly out of cover (click to enlarge) Pool at Kolczyn with marshes in the distance

5. Zabice/Czernowy Canal
Zabice is a small village to the south of the 22, reached via a minor road through Czarnow. Around here I was lucky enough to see briefly a Black Woodpecker flying over the road, right out in the open. At Zabice I turned N along a cobbled road by a small kiosk. This went through the village and emerged into a pleasant wooded area. Parking the car I then did a small triangular walk which went initially N to the canal, then W along it, before heading back SE along a track. This was a supposed site for River Warbler and maybe Barred Warbler as well, but I was either out of luck, deaf & blind or more probably too early in the season. Also the water level in the canal was very low, which may not have helped. There were some compensations in the form of more Nightingale and invisible Great Reed Warbler.

On the return leg, the wooded area was quite good for dragonflies (Broad-bodied Chaser etc) and butterflies, including this Map.

Broad bodied Chaser Map butterfly

6. Warta Mouth NP headquarters
The NP headquarters in to the S of the 22 just the east of Kostrzyn (easy to miss & drive past the entrance). There is a huge, tall and somewhat unwelcoming building (entrance at rear). When I visited it wasn't clear if it was open for visitors, so I didn't try to go in. From here there is a short trail that crosses the road and heads a little way into the marshes. This gave distant views of many the now familiar species, such as Black Tern, and the odd Wood Sandpiper. There were also some Great White Egrets around and distant White-tailed Eagle both over the marshes and on the S side of the 22. No photo opportunities and not a particularly worthwhile stop.

7. Forest at Lemierzyce
This was a site mentioned in another trip report. It is reached by taking the 22 east out of Slonsk and then exiting left at the first (western) junction for Lemierzyce. Almost immediately take a left on the old road that runs parallel with the new 22. Just before you reach the end of this spur, turn right down a small woodland track. I parked after about 100m and then walked along the track, which descended to a marshy area at the bottom where there is track running left and right. There are also rides through the forest.

This was a splendid mature deciduous forest with the pale green leaves just out. It was however very dense and so it was difficult to see anything. There was a Black Woodpecker drumming in the distance and a nearer but invisible Golden Oriole. Also masses of Wood Warblers singing, but very difficult to spot. In fact the only bird I glimpsed in this brief visit was a woodpecker - probably Middle Spotted but it didn't call and I didn't see it well enough to be sure.

Lagowski Park Krajobrazowy
The Drawienski NP, mentioned in other trip reports, is a longish drive from Slonsk, being 70+ km NE of Gorszow, which is itself 30-40km from Slonsk. This didn't seem worth it, but on my map the much nearer Lagowski Park, to the SE looked similar (woods & lakes). So I gave it a go, which turned out to a mistake! Along its northern edge at least, this supposed park turned out to be a closed military area with no entry signs everywhere! Also few if any of the roads into it, marked on the map, seemed to exist. The only birds of any note I saw were some Goldeneye on a lake that had a picnic area by it, and a Bullfinch.

2012 July 1st & 2nd Update
For my brief (1 night/c. 22 hr) "sortie" to this area in July 2012, I again stayed at the Hubertus Hotel in Slonsk, which was very quiet - apart from a party of locals watching the Euro 2012 final! I visited a number of the sites I'd explored in a more leisurely fashion the previous year - with the main aim of trying to find River and Barred Warblers. Unfortunately again I failed miserably with these, but there was some compensation in the form of several Marsh Warblers, and Red-backed Shrikes - both absent from my previous visit.

I visited my favourite site from 2011 twice, the first time being in the late afternoon/early evening of the 1st July. This site was again good and the first bird I came across was a very skulking Marsh Warbler singing softly from a ditch by the roadside near a yellow post/marker well before the main marshy stretch. Also new for 2012 was a nice family of Red-backed Shrikes. I also renewed my acquaintance with Savi's Warbler and drumming Snipe but there was no sight nor sound, as far as I could tell, of River or Barred Warblers. The second visit on the morning of the 2nd was less productive with some disturbance in the form of some locals chain sawing wood in the middle of the marshy section. Also there were large new earth works spoiling the end of the track - a new road was being built on a large embankment near to the main river, probably as a flood defense?

Female Red-backed Shrike
male Red-backed Shrike
female (left) and male Red-backed Shrikes (click left to enlarge)

Zabice/Czernowy Canal
The water levels in this canal were much higher than in 2011, but the birds were very similar - with Great Reed Warbler the most notable. I also caught a glimpse of a Golden Oriole in flight along the wooded section of the track just north of Zabice. I also heard them in the trees along the Canal. My only Crane of the trip flew over as well.

Kamien Maly
I spent longer along the track that runs south from this village past the railway "station" than in 2012, as it seemed like good Barred Warbler habitat. It was a pleasant site, but bird highlights were limited to more Red Backed Shrikes, one Great Grey Shrike, Cuckoo, Whitethroat, Marsh Harrier etc.

This was again a nice spot, and I had a close but brief view of a Golden Oriole from the raised approach road, coming in from the west. At the start of the dyke, the Stork nest in the garden of the house was again occupied but instead of having adults in residence as last year, all the Stork nests in the region had quite large juveniles. This one had three! Walking along the dyke I came across Great Reed Warbler and then a slightly more showy Marsh Warbler that very briefly sang from an exposed spot! I also heard plenty of silvia Warbler sp. song, some of which was definitely just a Blackcap, but another was possibly something more interesting - and looked quite large in flight. However I never got proper views to know if it was a Barred Warbler. Worryingly, I then saw a Garden Warbler in the same area, so it could have just been that!

Marsh Warbler
Whitethroat Marsh Warbler (click to enlarge)
ad White Stork juv White Storks
Young White Storks on nest at Kolczyn (right) and adult in a field near Czernowy (left)

Concrete road NW of Slonsk (Betonka)
Unlike during my 2011 visit, I just called in on this site briefly before heading back towards Berlin. Unlike all the other sites which were very wet (with deep pools on the tracks from recent rain - just like England!), the water level along the Betonka was much lower than in May 2011. I didn't try walking beyond the fishermans' car park, as the whole place seemed very quiet and devoid of much birding interest - quite unlike May 2011.

Accommodation Details

Place Comment
Hubertus Hotel, Slonsk Other birders had stayed here, so it seemed worth a try, being right next to one of the best sights. Making the booking and subsequent e-mail correspondence in English worked OK. On arrival it was difficult to find this modern budget hotel on the site! In Slonsk, it is to the east of the roundabout to the S of the 22. It was then past the petrol station and through an arch-way, over a mock moat to the left of the 24-hour restaurant (handy for early breakfasts). There was a secure car park at the back. On arrival the receptionist spoke a little English, and I managed to check-in OK and successfully asked for a room further from the main (EU developed?) road, along which there was a steady 24-hr stream of heavy lorries. The room was fine with a shower & WC (remember your travel plug for the wash basin!).

The adjacent restaurant lacked an English menu - it was in German and Polish, but the pictures gave you some idea of what you were going to get. Prompt service, but not haut cuisine by any stretch of the imagination. However at those prices you couldn't expect it! There was a handy ATM very close in Slonsk, on the left shortly after turning into the town from the roundabout. The room was very reasonable at zl 120/night (c. 30), with breakfast only about 20zl, with dinner about twice that. They accepted credit cards and there was free WIFI! So definitely recommended.

2012 update: Even less English was spoken by the staff! The restaurant is no longer open 24 hours, opening at 06:00 and closing at midnight I believe. The hotel and restaurant seemed very quiet. I wonder if it will manage to stay in business?

All pictures copyright Stephen Burch 


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