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Western Poland & Brandenburg, Germany

29 May to 1 June 2014

By Stephen Burch, England

In 2011 and 2012 I was fortunate to be able to make brief visits to the Warta Mouth area of Poland after business trips to Berlin in early May and early July. This time I decided to make a special trip at what I hoped was the optimum time of year to try to connect with the species I had missed previously, when I thought I must have been either too late or too early. I also had new information on the Brandenburg area of Germany, based on Roger White's excellent book "A Birdwatching Guide to Brandenburg and Berlin" and also some extra tips he kindly provided me with in advance of this trip.

This was a long weekend solo birding trip and I decided to revisit the Warta Mouth area of Poland on day 1, hopefully for Barred & River Warblers before moving on to the Oder river area of Brandenburg, north east of Berlin for days 2 and most of 3, before my evening return. As I was on my own, fairly early starts and the occasional late finish were not a problem, although a bad back was.

As I found previously, the Warta Mouth area of Poland is quite a 'manageable' area for a solo self guided trip. I stayed in the same small hotel in Slonsk I had used before, right at the centre of the area, which was just about 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 3 visits to this area! I didn't come across any other birders in Poland, but did (to my advantage) in Germany.

The contrast between Poland and its more affluent neighbour was very apparent, and certainly the hotel and nearby restaurant I picked in Germany was a great improvement on the one in Slonsk, without being overly expensive.

In the absence of the new Berlin airport, I used BA to fly from Heathrow to the ageing Tegel airport, which will hopefully be my last visit there! Both outward & return flights were more or less on time, and I even got a small roll on the return trip instead of the usual minuscule bag of nibbles!

Car hire
Hertz was again offering very good value car hire and I avoided the amazingly expensive 'super cover' of over 20 euros a day by taking out separate car hire excess insurance in advance. Note that for driving in Poland you need to let the car hire company know in advance or when collecting the car - as this rules out certain models of cars. To avoid the mistake I made previously, I made very sure I filled up the car on my return - there is convenient filling station to the right on the final approach to the airport at GPS 52.550132,13.297624.

As previously I used a Michelin 1:300,000 map (556 Poland North West) from Stanfords for Poland. For Brandenburg I used the better 1:200,000 Marco Polo map, titled Berlin, Brandenburg, which also covers part of the Warta Mouth area. I also relied extensively on my SatNav, using lat, long (GPS) coordinates I had stored in advance by careful study of Google maps - many of which I give below to help similarly equipped other birders. 

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

New since my previous trips was Roger White's excellent book "A Birdwatching Guide to Brandenburg and Berlin", which has plenty of information on this area of Germany and also covers Warta Mouth.

Again I was lucky with the weather which was good almost throughout, with mostly sunny and warm conditions with only a few spots of rain on day 1. However there had clearly been heavy rain just before my visit as all the tracks in Poland has large amounts of water on them still.

All the pics shown below were taken with my DSLR equipment - Canon EOS 7D with EF400mm/f4 DO lens & x1.4TC, sometimes mounted on a tripod.  All pics were taken in RAW format, and I use NeatImage for noise suppression, with PhotoShop Elements 9.0 for subsequent processing. For further details see the equipment and image processing pages elsewhere on this website.

Sites in Poland

1. Dabroszyn (GPS 52.602057,14.725106)
I spent nearly all of my single day in Poland shuttling between two main sites (Dabroszyn and the Czernowy Canal) in an only partially successful search for the two lifers I had missed previously - Barred & River Warblers. This was because these two sites had records for both species in other trip reports.

As I had found before, Dabroszyn was again a nice site, with good photo opportunities direct from the car. However it had changed somewhat since my last visit, in that there is now, at the end of the main track that runs through the marsh, a large dyke which runs both east and west along the side of the Warta floods. This was topped by a good but narrow quiet road which just what a birder with a bad back needed to drive along! In the morning, with few people about, this road provided me with effort free, good views over the flooded areas south towards the river and north over the reedy marshes. In addition to a host of common warblers, birds seen from this road included White-tailed Eagle, at least 3 Common Rosefinch (not seen before here), a pair of Red-necked Grebes with young and a distant booming Bittern.  However on a later visit it became apparent that the locals considered cars should not be driven along here at all!

In the marshy section, along both sides of the main track from the main road through the site, there were more Rosefinches, including a brief view of a male with some red on it, unlike all the others that were very drab. There was also a Wryneck (as seen in 2011) and drumming Snipe. However this time, I didn't come across any Savi's Warblers at this site, unlike previously.

There was unfortunately not a hint of the presence of any River Warblers, despite the optimum time of year and a previous record in another trip report. Perhaps these can only be seen and heard at dawn or dusk? in late May, the problem is that dawn is very early and dusk very late indeed!

Fortunately, during my final, early evening visit, at last I had some success in the form of a very brief c. 3 sec glimpse of the other of my target species - a splendid but elusive Barred Warbler. This was seen from the car in the bushy section of the main track, at about GPS 52.612742,14.715466. Regrettably by the time I had grabbed my camera, it had vanished! This was the only one I saw on this trip. There was certainly no sign of them singing from tops of bushes, as sometimes reported by others.

Common Rosefinch Swallow
Un-rosy Common Rosefinch (click to enlarge) Swallow in the evening (click to enlarge)
Red necked Grebe Blue-headed Wagtail
Displaying distant Red-necked Grebes Blue-headed Wagtail

2. Zabice/Czernowy Canal
Zabice is a small village to the south of the 22, reached via a minor road through Czarnow. At Zabice it is possible to drive to the Czarnow canal by turning N along a cobbled road by a small kiosk (at about GPS 52.516423,14.714287). This goes through the village and emerges into a pleasant wooded area containing Golden Orioles (heard only). You can then drive right to the canal, reaching it at a small bridge (GPS 52.530409,14.716009). The track to the right along the canal is also perfectly drive-able. This reaches route 22 at GPS 52.54486,14.722579. There are also tracks along the canal to the left of the bridge N of Zabice but to me they didn't look negotiable in the car.

This site also has records in other trip reports of both Barred and River Warbler, but despite visiting several times at different times of day, I couldn't find any evidence for either of them. I did however manage to see and photo a Great Read Warbler out of cover (see below) by the canal near the bridge. Further on to the right of the canal, there was a marshy area, a few hundred metres short of route 22, where I came across a singing Thrush Nightingale, but unfortunately it spent its whole time out of view. Several return visits to this spot failed to produce any sightings of this lifer, and little song for that matter. A Black Woodpecker at the same spot the following morning was at least some consolation.

Great Reed Warbler
Great Reed Warbler (click to enlarge)

3. Kamien Maly (GPS 52.642198,14.781395)
I had previously driven down the bumpy track that heads down towards the river from the railway "station" in Kamien Maly. This site is very close to Dabroszyn and also I reckoned a possible Barred Warbler site, so I thought I would give it another go. This was nearly a big mistake! Right at the start of the marshy section, by a small bridge I found a singing Marsh Warbler but thereafter the track deteriorated badly becoming muddy with huge potholes filled with deep water. At one point it was clearly time to turn around - to have gone further would have almost certainly meant getting stuck. However the only turning spot was filled by two cars, making it an almost impossible task - and reversing would have been a nightmare! So I persevered and managed to get round with about a 20 point turn! Much relieved I then beat a hasty retreat and saw no other birds here.

4. Tower on route 22 (GPS 52.543425,14.761025)
In previous visits I had ignored this tower immediately beside the 22 between Slonsk and Kostrzyn but this time the mention in Roger White's book of a Barred Warbler here on the top of a bush had me stopping briefly whenever I was passing. Of course, I never found any hint of Barred Warbler, but climbing to the top of the tower gives mega distant views of the marshes with a Crane once on my first morning. There was also a pair of Red-backed Shrikes and various common warblers at the bottom of the short track leading down from the car park. There was also a passing White-tailed Eagle that came quite close once, but I was unable to get my camera onto it quickly enough.

Sites in Germany

On my second day, somewhat disappointed by only limited  success in Poland, I headed west out of Poland, stopping briefly to check out the tower and the Czernowy Canal again (which produced the Black Woodpecker already mentioned). I then headed NW through rural eastern Germany to the Chorin site mentioned in Roger White's book as the most reliable place for Red-breasted Flycatchers in Brandenburg.

5. Chorin (GPS 52.900541,13.915379)
Chorin is a small village north of Eberswalde. From a bend in the road (GPS 52.894639,13.892549), a drive-able track leads NW towards Brodowin through forest. In his book, White recommends stopping along this track to listen for Red-breasted Flycatchers, so I drove up and down listening hard from the car with windows down and also stopping every so often. The closest I came to this desirable target was a Spotted Flycatcher, with no sound at all of any RBFs. I also went for a walk along a path to the right of the track at his site 10 (GPS coordinates above) on page 83, towards his site 11. Again no joy, and little else either apart from one distant invisible singing Wood Warbler.

6. Brodowin (GPS 52.899542,13.980032 )
Site 5 on page 83 of White's book is very close to Chorin, and said to be good for Barred Warblers, so I headed there after the fruitless search for RBFs. By now it was around mid-day and quite warm - not the best time for birding. In the bushes along the track beyond the cross roads I found various small birds, best of which was probably a Lesser Whitethroat, but no evidence at all of Barred Warblers. Discouraged by this poor start to my German part of this trip, I didn't spend too long here, although I did hear a Quail calling as I was leaving.

7. Randow Bruch (GPS 53.198734,14.10082)
This is a good raptor site from White's book somewhat to the north of Chorin & Brodowin, most notably Lesser-spotted Eagles (which would be a lifer for me and is a rare species in Germany and western Poland). Randow Bruch is in quite an obscure location and I was glad of the SatNav to find it. Arriving mid afternoon, I first stopped at the start of the narrow track with grass growing up down the middle.

Here there was a lot of farm machinery traffic and I quickly realised they were mowing the hay. This was extremely fortunate as the activity was bringing in various raptors and a few White Storks, presumably to feed on the unfortunate creatures displaced or killed by the harvesting. There were masses of Red Kites and Black Kites coming in quite close.

Black Kite Black Kite
Black Kite
Black Kites coming in to the hay harvest (click bottom to enlarge)

After observing the kites for a while, I began to notice some larger but much more distant raptors. With only bins, I wasn't too sure what they were, but I then spotted a group of German birders with an array of 'scopes in a field a good deal further on along the track with the grass centre. So I made my way along to join them (these was a small parking area here - for GPS coords see the section title). Fortunately at least one of them spoke good English and I was told that both White-tailed and Lesser-spotted Eagles were about! Very soon, the most helpful birder picked up a distant Lesser-spotted Eagle and kindly allowed me to tick it through his scope!

It soon been apparent that a few of these birds were around, but they were very distant and into the sun. So I headed back to my initial spot and was rewarded with much closer views and greatly improved light, which allowed some semi reasonable photos to be taken (see below). One bird even did an amazing but very quick "loop the loop", which allowed me to get an unusual view of its upper side, from down below! This encounter with these rare eagles was definitely the highlight of this trip.

Lesser Spotted Eagle Lesser Spotted Eagle
Lesser spotted Eagle & Buzzard (centre)
Lesser Spotted Eagle Lesser Spotted Eagle
Another photo! Upside down bird in mid "loop the loop"!

Chatting with the German birders at the LSE site, they told me they had located up to five Red-breasted Flycatchers earlier that day in a forest just back over the border in Poland. They had seen one of them, but had said they had been 'lucky' to do so. As this was my number one target for this trip it was clear where I was going to go the next day, especially as it was only about 1/2 hr from my hotel!

Site back in Poland

8. Cedynski Park near Bielinek (GPS 52.953046,14.185299)
With breakfast on a Sunday at the Oder Hotel not until 08:00, it was just after nine by the time I arrived in the area for Red-breasted Flycatchers indicated by the helpful German birders the previous afternoon. However, I wasn't sure of the exact spot and to start with I couldn't hear them singing from the road, unlike the Germans.

It took me the better part of two hours, driving slowly up and down the minor road between Bielinek and Baraki and beyond (just to be sure) before I caught a snatch of what sounded like my target's song. Prior to that all I had heard was several Wood Warblers. The RBF song was coming from an extremely dense and dark stand of tall trees, mainly beech with the odd pine here and there. The GPS coords above are as accurate as I can get them to the actual location. The song was coming from the forest to the south-east of the road. Travelling from Baraki, this spot on the road was about 100m short of a gentle bend in the road that had a track leading off diagonally from it to the left.

Having got the right location, I quickly located the singing bird about 50-100m from the road and could hear another singing off to the right. However as the bird was sticking to the canopy, way up above me, actually seeing it was clearly going to be challenging. About 4hrs later  I had to admit defeat & leave to catch my flight home. During all that time I had seen a couple of Spotted Flycatchers, and possibly a glimpse of the RBF, but it certainly wasn't a tick-able view. I had tried waiting under slightly more open parts, where the view up into the canopy was better but this was hopeless as the bird just didn't come anywhere near them, while I was there. The more direct approach of following it around its quite rapid circuit through the top of the canopy forest was equally unproductive with minimal views up into the canopy nearly all the time. So a rather disappointing and frustrating end to this trip.

Postscript: Determined not to be beaten by this setback, I kept a close eye on the rare bird news back in the UK in the autumn of 2014, and when a settled adult male was reported from Beachy Head in far off East Sussex, I couldn't resist the temptation to go for it, despite the long drive! I was rewarded with much better views of this delightful passerine than I could ever have obtained in that wretched gloomy Polish forest!

Accommodation Details

Place Comment
Hubertus Hotel, Slonsk This budget hotel is where I had stayed on my previous short trips to this part of Poland. Making the booking and subsequent e-mail correspondence in English worked OK. 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 restaurant. There was a car park at the back. On arrival the receptionist spoke a little English, and I managed to check-in OK and ended up with a rather basic room on the ground floor near to reception which had the advantage of free WIFI.

The adjacent restaurant (open from 06:00 to 24:00) lacked an English menu - it was in German and Polish, but the pictures gave you some idea of what you were going to get. As previously it featured quite prompt service, but was not haut cuisine by any stretch of the imagination. However at those prices you couldn't expect it!  The room was very reasonable at zl 120/night (c. 25), with breakfast only about 5 with dinner about twice that. Both accepted credit cards. As in 2012, both the hotel and restaurant were sparsely occupied, although there was some annoying noise from the reception at night way into the small hours. For breakfast, there were only set items from the menu and nothing like cereal or fruit etc.

Oder Hotel, nr Schwedt This was listed in White's book, and was a considerable step up on the Hubertus Hotel, without being too expensive (about 50 per night inc breakfast). Again the receptionist spoke a little English and my room was much pleasanter and better equipped than the Hubertus. The hotel restaurant was closed that evening due to a private function but I was directed to a pleasant place in the village nearby on the opposite side of the main road. In the fine evening weather, this was a busy place near the Oder which served much better food than I had experienced in Poland! The hotel breakfast was also good, with a comprehensive buffet, just as you would get in an international hotel.

All pictures copyright Stephen Burch 


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