A photographic report of a trip at Easter time
Easter Sunday 27 March, Bieszczady
The roar of the traffic dies down; the power of silence and vast nature landscapes take over when we arrive at our idyllic lodge around lunchtime. It gives a green human a bond and energy that can only occur in places like this! When unloading the car, we are welcomed by crying Cranes flying overhead. We get the same from a migrating Great Egret foraging from a beaver dam. In a nearby meadow, we spot a group of Red Deer and a Fox is hunting a mouse. A note, left by two Britons who used the hut, tells us of their observations of Wisent, Wild Cat and even a Dormouse. Then it goes towards the hut to inspect the camera trap. Judging by the images, the residential Wolf pack seems to be around still! The same is true for the Badger, Fox, Deer, Wild Boar as well as a Golden Eagle. After inspection of the carcass, I decide to stay in the hut that same evening and night; after all, some serious munching has been going on. Once seated, I am entertained by two Buzzards and a couple of Ravens who indulge in a lavish supper. All you can eat! But mainly it is enjoying the silence and the panoramic views of the Carpathian Mountains which the hut has to offer. A text message reports that a Wolf pack is heard close to the lodge. Feels like coming home! I use the night mainly to get some sleep; during two short scanning sessions with the night vision goggles, I only see a Fox.
Monday 28 March
At dawn, both bird species from the day before, the Raven and Buzzard, are there again. They spend some time around the carcass. When they suddenly fly away, I move my sight from behind my camera to the window: two WOLVES are entering the meadow from the left. So close! They walk around, check the carcass and leave the meadow to the right. What was remarkable about them was the totally different coloured coat on each of them. They were not large species at all. Clearly two younger members of the local pack which, most likely, were retreating from their night and morning hunt. Around this time of the year wolves no longer stay in their pack all the time; the alpha pair is tied to their hideout for most of the time now anyhow. The others were exploring around the cabin at dawn and they saw a Ural Owl and Hazel Grouse, plus fresh tracks and droppings of a Wolf and Bear. When leaving the hut, I bumped into a male Hazel Grouse. The bird feeds on buds growing at the top of an overgrown hazel tree. What a way to start this trip! René and Annelies and their two kids go towards the hut. A text message from them says that an adult Golden Eagle landed on the carcass at dusk. Myself, I discover that a Beaver trio is still active in and around the beaver lodge adjacent to the meadow where the walk starts which leads to the hut. A nesting box we hung up in the autumn for Ural Owls has vanished; we have to make do with a specimen which is hunting. A third family arrives at our lodge.
Tuesday, 29 March
Seeing René had such success yesterday, I decide to take the same walk near the lodge. I only see a few animal tracks from the Brown bears in the area; I am not lucky enough to actually bump into one... On the way back, we spot a tame, elderly female Red deer on an abandoned railroad. The hind lets herself be photographed quite willingly. "To get this old in prime wolf country ... This specimen deserves a medal!"
Wednesday, 30 March
The beds in the hut seem to keep their occupants hostage, leaving the night vision goggles untouched; nobody gets out of their sleeping bag much before dawn. It happens. Once everyone is positioned behind the window, along comes a pair of Golden Eagles to take another look around, but the birds do not land. On the way back we spot the first Black Stork. After breakfast, we check the beaver pond which, just like last year, is acting as a nursery for Brown frogs.
It’s fabulous to see the kids have a great time playing ‘trip-around-the-beaver-world’! No need for indoor soft play here! The photographic opportunities that the numerous amphibians provide are unequalled! The day is spent much the same as yesterday, the only difference is that those who were in the hut are now at the lookout and vice versa. Fresh tracks of a Bear with cubs near the lookout make for some excitement. Meanwhile, we receive a text message from a local contact saying that a herd of Wisents is right near his house. Because we manage to locate the ungulates - a mixed herd of nineteen individuals - quite quickly from the lookout point, we do not return. Later in the evening, we spotted another herd: a loose association of six immature bulls. Also Foxes, Red deer and Roe deer emerge from the undergrowth to forage in the meadows. News from the hut is fairly basic: just Ravens and Buzzards during the day and a Fox and Badger during the night.
Thursday 31 March
After breakfast, we make our way to the spot where there were lots of wisent tracks yesterday morning. On the way there I am stopped dead in my tracks when I spot the contours of a Wisent, visible between the fir trees. It appears it is just one lonely old bull lying down, ruminating away. This is a typical image of the region! The animal is alert and has seen the car. I manage to sneak out of the car unseen and shoot some pictures. We park up and continue our explorations on foot. We encountered Red Deer, Does, Black and Grey-headed woodpeckers and one male Hazel grouse calling out. Then we return and wait for a duo (from the United Kingdom) who will be arriving this afternoon at the lodge. For four days, father and son will make use of our knowledge and service we offer in the area. It will be a memorable experience and an unforgettable trip...Memories for life, and the best gift from a father to his son without ANY doubt! And straight away they are off to a great start! A colossal WOLF crosses the road once we're well and truly on our way in the car! Arriving late at the hut we disturb some Ravens who only give us a timid performance afterwards. The pair of Buzzards are nowhere to be seen. The reason for such unrest is soon known: a Golden Eagle is patrolling the skies. At 6.30pm he lands like a jet straight in front of us onto the carcass. This is what we came for! At dusk, a Eurasian Pygmy Owl starts calling.
Friday, 1 April
Since we still haven’t spotted anything to write home about, I decided to do some cleaning up in the hut. When you leave the hut you must do it swiftly, in order to minimise disturbance and minimise leaving any human scents behind. John and William are focused on the meadow and sky in front of the hut. Two Golden eagles are present, but they don’t land. A little before seven o'clock William points to a Roebuck appearing out of nowhere; It runs in our direction through the pines. When I spot the facial expression of the animal I know straight away: "There must be a wolf hunting in the area!" The Roebuck, whose focus is on the horizon, is hardly making any progress. I keep whispering excitedly: “Keep watching, a wolf will appear soon!” Not a minute later and there he is: from the left side of the meadow a Wolf appears, running at full speed towards the Roebuck. The Roebuck is running too, with his tongue hanging out of his mouth. Although it all happened very fast, John and William witnessed a unique experience. Nature at its best! After some fist pumping, the necessary high fives and "Yeses" we leave the hut half an hour later and go towards our lodge. The short walk that follows looking for the killer (wolf) and the kill (roebuck) yields no results; the area is indeed too impenetrable and stretched out. And, Nature does not give up all her secrets just like that. Nothing happens because you want it to! In any case, the event we just witnessed gives our Europe's Big Five mammal hut more depth...
Afterwards, via a pit stop looking for White-backed Woodpeckers, we move towards the border area with Ukraine. We return home in good time. Scan sessions with the spotlight are meant to cheer up the evening somewhat. A Beaver and Ural Owl first appear in our beam, but little did we know what was in store for us... We take a turn, halfway through the return journey, and upon starting up our light session we immediately see eyes reflected in the beam. An animal that does not run away. Strange… We focus the binoculars on the animal and in the seconds it takes for the image to reach our retina and our brains, the atmosphere COMPLETELY changes. “LYNX! A LYNX! That's a LYNX!” The convoy of three cars comes to an abrupt halt. The Lynx remains seated, looking in our direction, but decides, as he senses our atmosphere of uncontrollable total euphoria, joy and freaking out, to get up and move toward the edge of the woods adjacent to the pasture. Luckily for us, the animal is satisfied with the cover of safety that the trees offer him. The giant cat, alternating between sitting and lying, starts an extensive cleaning session, licking and brushing his coat for more than 20 minutes. Just like house cats would do. Telephoto lenses are taken out of the trunk in order to watch this performance down to the last detail. Whiskers, tufts on the ears, brown coat with black spots, short tail with a black tip ... all the typical characteristics can be checked and observed in great detail. It is quite clear that we were in the right place at the right time. The Lynx must have sought out the meadow at dusk in order to wait for Deer and Hares. With hunting on its mind, the animal must thereby have ignored the drizzly rain. Human disturbance and wet fur ensure that the animal does make a run for it. Once the cleaning has been completed, we manage to follow the Lynx between the trees for a few more steps along his path deeper into the forest. How lucky we were, there are no words to describe our feelings! The combination of this fantastic moment with the hunting Wolf earlier in the morning. UNBELIEVABLE! It goes without saying that once we arrived back at our lodge we raised a glass to this amazing day in the field! Phenomenal!
Signed: Jan Kelchtermans / Europe's Big Five