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Poland – Eurasian Lynx and winter wildlife

A wintery week in the company of Marek Borkowski, searching for some of Europe’s most exciting large mammals.

The extensive habitats of northeast Poland are amongst the last great European wildernesses, with healthy populations of large mammals still surviving in the primeval forests and marshes.

Europe’s heaviest land mammal, the European Bison was driven to the verge of extinction by the 19th century, but has since returned to the Bialowieza Forest, where 60% of the world’s free-roaming ‘Wisent’ now make their home.

The two great predators of the Polish forests are Wolf, with more than 1,000 individuals, and the shy and enigmatic Eurasian Lynx which numbers around 300.

The lack of vegetation cover, snowy-white background, shortage of food supply and the possibility to follow tracks in the snow all combine to make this one of the best times of year to look for these shy mammals. Apart from the animals themselves, we also have a good chance of seeing the signs of their behaviour, as well as perhaps hearing the eerie howling of local Wolf packs.

Other mammals we can expect to come across include Elk, Wild Boar, Roe Deer and Red Squirrels, while Racoon Dog, Otter, Polecat and both Beech and Pine Marten are all present in good numbers. Winter birdlife should include owls and woodpeckers, birds of prey and grouse, Waxwings and tits.

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There is no better season then winter to experience the remoteness of this ‘Dr Zhivago country’. Frozen lakes, snow covered fields, great drifts of snow at the edge of the roads and crisp, wintery forests.

Dates

18 – 25 January 2020

Leader

Philip Precey and Marek Borkowski

Price

£2,095

Single Room Supplement – £180

Included

Return flight from London to Warsaw. Local transport as specified in itinerary. Seven nights’ accommodation, full board.

Not included

Refreshments. Entrance fees for optional sightseeing. Gratuities. Travel insurance.

Group size

Minimum 5, maximum 12.

Day 1 Our flight takes us to Warsaw, from where we transfer to the Masurian Lakes. Our hotel is located on the tip of a peninsula jutting out into Lake Sniardwy, Poland’s largest lake, approximately twice as large as Loch Lomond and surrounded by mature Scots Pine forests. Wild Boar and Red Squirrels are commonly spotted amongst the trees, along with Black Woodpecker and White-tailed Eagle.

Days 2 – 3 We will spend our days searching the 300,000 acres of Piska Forest for the two great predators of the forest, Wolf and Eurasian Lynx, along with Capercaillie, while our evenings will be spent looking for Tengmalm’s, Pygmy and Eagle Owls.

Day 4 We transfer to Marek’s farm in the Biebrza Marshes. European Beavers live in the garden, Red Squirrels share the feeders with Crested and Willow Tits and a variety of woodpeckers while Beech Martens leave their den in the roof to visit the bird table in the evening. Otter, Polecat and Raccoon Dog are also frequently seen in the area, while the local Wolf pack howls at night to proclaim their territory.

Days 5-7 We move further eastwards, to the wonderful Bialowieza Forest, the last great expanse of the European primeval forests that once stretched unbroken from the Ural Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean. Some 1200 square kilometres of forest remains, divided evenly between Poland and neighbouring Belarus. We will have two full days to explore this fantastic landscape, including the core ‘strict reserve’, with restricted access. The forest is best known as the home of the European Bison, with around 3,000 animals present either side of the border, and we will have our sights firmly set on spending some time with these wonderful animals. The forest is also home to all of Europe’s woodpeckers, Nutcracker, Hazel Grouse and owls, including the occasional Great Grey Owl.

Day 8 We bid farewell to the wildlife of Poland and head back to Warsaw, and our flights back home.

Please note that the itinerary may be changed to suit the weather or other practicalities at the discretion of the leaders. 

It will, no doubt, be chilly outside, but our hotels are cosy and well heated. All bedrooms have private facilities en suite.

Food is based on organic products and we will have a chance to experience traditional Polish home cooking. Requests for special diets can be accommodated.

We will travel by minibus but the winter conditions may mean we switch to more suitable transport, with four-wheel drive vehicles and even horse-drawn sledges all at our disposal.

Group flights are with LOT from London Heathrow.

18 January depart Heathrow 10.25, arrive Warsaw 13.55
25 January depart Warsaw 15.30, arrive Heathrow 17.20

Poland is one hour ahead of the UK

If you hold an EU passport, you do not currently need a visa to travel to Poland. Your passport should be valid for the proposed duration of your stay; you do not need any additional period of validity on your passport beyond this. Should we leave the EU without a deal in place before January 2020, you should have at least six months left on your passport from your date of arrival.

The weather at this time of year can be, not surprisingly, cold, perhaps around freezing (although it may also be warmer) during the day, with snow on the ground, sometimes at depths of a metre or more. Cold winds can add to the chill factor, and you should be prepared for it to be cold throughout the trip. Snow or rain are both possible. We will adapt our activities to the weather.

We are out and about for much of the day as we travel around the countryside looking for the special wildlife of the area. You should be comfortable with walking on snowy or icy ground. For this reason the trip is not likely to be suitable for anyone who has problems with balance or who needs a stick to walk. There are likely to be steps at our hotels, with no lift, and we are likely to be climbing in and out of the vehicle fairly often.