Saturday, 7 February 2015

Polish plugs, pouncers and passengers

I arrived at Gdansk Lech Walesa airport at 12.30 in the morning, my third trip to the city in less than twelve months. I checked in at the hotel just a stone’s throw away from the arrival lounge. I didn’t have the best of starts on Friday. I had forgotten to pack my travel adapter plug, a necessity in getting about. I took a short trip to the departure area at the airport to purchase a new plug, only to discover when I returned to the hotel, I had in fact bought the wrong one, or at least one that doesn’t work in Poland.

I went back to the airport, only to be told by the assistant that as I had opened the packaging I couldn’t exchange it. After negotiating a deal with the manager I ended up exchanging for one that did work, and had to pay the difference.

I made my way to the guest house and immediately looked out of the room window and in the gardens of the adjoining properties were great tits by the dozen, blue tit, robin, blackbirds, jay, two great spotted woodpeckers and two hawfinches. I was starting to feel better after the plug debacle. I ventured over to a wooded area opposite in Jascowa Dolina. After a quiet start, I saw a black woodpecker flying, and in trying to get a better view then was surrounded by a host of birds, including nuthatches, treecreepers, goldcrest, crested, coal and long tailed tits, also great spotted woodpeckers. The usual corvids were flying over, including ravens. Making my way back to the guest house it started to snow heavy.

I woke early next day to see a blanket of snow, and wondered whether the public transport would be affected. I asked the guest house owner and he said “used to snow here, everything keeps running”. I was on a tight schedule to make the bus to the Island called Sobieszewska. I needed to get a bus for two stops, then a tram for 8 stops to catch the 186 bus. Unfortunately I missed it by a couple of minutes, realising not as many buses run on a Saturday. The next bus was an hour and half later. I decided to go for the 112 bus that took me to the island but the other end of where I wanted to be. Looking out on to the Vistula river, I could see long tailed ducks, goldeneyes and goosanders. I heard calling which I didn’t recognise, and using an app on my mobile, discovered it was male long tailed ducks calling. My new travel plug was already having benefits, with my fully charged mobile.

 I saw a raised platform for viewing over a reedbed and pond. I heard bearded tits, but didn’t see them. Walking up towards the tip of the Island, I saw numerous fieldfare, blackbird, bullfinches, greenfinches and siskin. I walked up further towards the Mewia Lacha nature reserve.  I walked up a tall steel tower platform and two Polish birders with telescopes were looking out to the Baltic sea. They only spoke a little English, but they allowed me to look at two waders through a telescope. An oystercatcher and a dunlin, didn’t seem so exciting. I was to learn later though that these two birds made the news in Poland. It is very rare for these waders to be seen there in winter. Further along the spit was more exciting for me, a white tailed eagle sat waiting. I thanked my Polish birder friends. I don’t think I will recognise them again though, they wore balaclavas.
Oystercatcher and dunlin, rare winter visitors to Poland
I then proceeded to walk along the coast line, not that I could see much of the Baltic sand, it was mostly snow. I perhaps underestimated the time it would take to walk towards the other end of the Island. I was stopping occasionally to look to see what was out at sea and to look for amber stones, after discovering about amber being washed up in the coast after my trip to Palanger, Lithuania late last year. I saw a few hundred cormorants flying, common scoters, velvet scoters and more goldeneye and long tailed ducks. There were numerous gulls too. I arrived eventually at the other end of the Island, and the light was already fading. I looked in at the ptasi raj lake and saw immediately one of the most handsome ducks going; smews, with the males being particularly splendid. I caught the 186 bus and arriving back in Gdansk it was snowing again. I was tired now after all my walking exploits on the mixture of snow and sand.

The next day was sunny but colder and it was slippery under foot. I decided to stay fairly local and went to the President Reagana park which is alongside the Baltic sea. I took the bus there although it would have been quicker to walk. Arriving at the park I immediately came across hundreds of siskin feeding from the tops of the tall trees. They were flying from tree to tree and more joined in. I didn’t see a great deal else. There were of course tit flocks, with the highlight being marsh tits. The lake in the park was completely frozen and not a mallard in sight. They had flown to the coast line, further out were long tailed ducks, goldeneyes and gulls. Scoters were further out again. I made my way back to the guest house and on the bus Polish ticket Inspectors (four of them) entered and at least two unfortunates were collared. A Liverpool nightclub bouncer lookalike Inspector took a long time looking at my ticket and asked me something in Polish. I told him I was English and he said “ah British” no doubt ready to add to his commission of ticket non payers and hand me an on the spot fine. Fortunately (for me, not him) he misread my ticket and I was in the time allowed. When I left the bus the Polish ticket pouncers were escorting another poor soul from the bus. I spent a couple of hours at Jascowa Dolina and saw more siskin but not in the numbers as earlier. A middle spotted woodpecker was the highlight. There were at least six buzzards soaring. There was much that I had seen a couple of days earlier with a willow tit calling.

The next day I was back at Sobieszewska and this time I made the 186 bus. It was certainly quieter than on previous visits to the reserve, but when you see, white tailed eagles, smew, long tailed ducks, goosanders, scoters you can’t complain. I saw the usual woodland birds, with many great spotted woodpeckers.
Baltic sea on the left looking towards Mewia lacha nature reserve
My last day was spent at jascowa Dolina again. This was because I had an evening flight and I had to check out of the guest house early. I didn’t want to carry my luggage around, and the guest house owner kindly let me leave my luggage at the reception. Surprisingly it turned out to be the best birding day. Immediately entering the forest I saw a goshawk flying over, it was a fantastic sight. I saw 100+ fieldfare also bullfinch, brambling and more siskin. The buzzards were soaring again and a sparrowhawk spotted later. I located a lesser spotted woodpecker and seven species of tit. The usual woodland birds were seen, and I heard the woodpeckers drumming for the first time. I had read somewhere it is usually the end of January they start, and it was 3rd Feb, so bang on cue. I must have read it in one of Gerard’s books.
Nature reserve off Jascowa Dolina

I made my way back to the guest house and thanked the owner for his hospitality and he suggested I must come again. He certainly was very welcoming and helpful. I made my way to the airport and everything was on time, but arriving in Liverpool, we were kept waiting with the seat belt lights still showing much longer than usual after the plane had come to a halt. The front cabin door opened with the seatbelt signs still showing and two police officers entered the plane and escorted off a passenger. Everyone was guessing what had happened, although I expect the Poles had a better idea because they outnumbered the Brits by 50 to 1, and the escorted passenger was Polish. Then the mad scramble off the plane into the Border control passport area.



Jennifer Jones said...

Fab narrative of your Polish trip, Rob. Whilst I admire your bird observations I'm more in awe of your capacity to cope with the buses!!

Rob said...

Thanks Jenny, not without the odd hiccup though, like getting the right bus in Krakow but in the wrong direction.

Ann Tomo said...

Great account of your trip Rob, thanks. You must be thinking of emigrating there you go so often?


laura bimson said...

You really brave Rob, those inspectors sound really scary.. what would they make of a gang from shedluck tours! I reckon your secretly planning on becoming a euro bird guide ..