A photographic report of a trip at Easter time
Saturday 2 April
The camera trap reveals that wolves appeared on the scene here during the previous night. It proves once again just how smart and shy these animals here are. Upon hearing the least unnatural sound, the animals steer away from the scene in front of the hut. The message for those in the hut is clear: doing everything in slow motion and reducing activity to a minimum is the key to success if you want to see wolves! While last year during the same period we were still surrounded by a snowy landscape, it is now well and truly spring. The high temperatures of the past few days have brought about the onset of seasonal change. The metamorphosis undergone by the meadows surrounding the lodge is astonishing. The rate at which the yellow, withered grass gives way to a new, fresh green carpet is also an irresistible attraction to the European bison (EB) that live in the surrounding woods. The location of our cabins on a southern slope completes the picture. During this time of year it is a kind of 'green-bison-magnet’. Spotting Europe's toughest ungulate in full glory is then only a matter of time here. And at today’s dawn, that is exactly what happens: four EB are foraging close to the log cabins. In order not to disturb the herd, we remain inside. Observing and photographing is done from the kitchen and the bedroom window. Gradually the dawn makes way for the first rays of sun; it appears to be a turning point for the EB and signals their leaving. In no time they disappear, via the hills behind, into the vast, endless forests. Undoubtedly for them a more secure and familiar environment! After the Wolf and the Lynx from yesterday, we hit the jackpot again in terms of spotting one of the real top species in this region.
After breakfast, we enjoyed the spring sunshine and the surrounding landscape. From the patio, singing and courting birds such as Yellowhammer, Crossbill, Grey-headed Woodpecker, Grey Wagtail and Lesser Spotted Eagle complete the picture. The kids enjoy themselves in the local river. At lunchtime, it is Jan who brings René and the British duo to the hut. René will stay with them during the afternoon and night; Jan and Dave are heading to a familiar vantage point in the area.
Once there, they split up. This to obtain a better overview of the area and increase the chance of actually catching sight of the residential top species. Armed with binoculars and telephoto lenses, Jan climbs a bit higher up onto the ridge; Dave gets himself settled down in the classic look-out point, albeit located a bit lower. The tactic seems to work. Jan spots a Wolf, Dave the herd of yesterday’s EB. The way in which the Wolf appears on the scene is so typical of its kind: super alert and under radar in a corner, which gives a view over the whole area, emerging from the bushes just before dusk. What the Wolf does then is a bit similar to what Jan does: scour the area to locate a potential prey. And Jan, with the discovery of the Wolf, did exactly that. However, the Wolf is not so lucky. He changes tactics: with his nose to the ground he begins to inspect the field in which he finds himself. His intention is clear and familiar to us: detecting scent trails. A tactic that appears quite successful: in no time the Wolf has caught a scent and starts his hunt. After receiving some more instructions from Jan, Dave manages to get the individual into his sight. A few moments later, the animal disappears in the woods adjacent to the pasture.
Once it is dark, by a detour (due to a spotlighting session) they return to the lodge. A lot of Roe deer and Red deer plus some foxes appear in the spotlight, but spotting a cracker such as yesterday’s lynx was not on the agenda tonight. News from the hut is positive: an imposing EB bull is running from left and right over and through the pasture in front of the hut. The goliath even takes a moment to sniff the carcass. The bickering of the pair of residential Common buzzards and ravens is enlivened by a Hen harrier on migration. It is a male slowly flying over the meadow and above the spruces. A Roe deer buck appears briefly to graze on the pasture too. During the twilight and night time some Ural, Pygmy and Tawny Owls become vocal and, scanning with the night vision bino, reveals foxes and badgers. Looking back, it was another full day of observations!
Sunday 3 April
The drive to the cabin, where Jan picks up René and the British duo, brings us a foraging Hoopoe at the side of the road. The combination of spotting this migrant bird (same with Ring Ouzels) and the arrival of Lesser Spotted Eagles and Black Storks near the lodge, clearly indicates that summer guests have reached their breeding territories and that others are on their way. The rest of the day is one of confusion and loss of time. The three new Brits, who were due to arrive, never appear. Jan decides to go back to the hut with the British duo already present. The company near the lodge decides on some nocturnal beaver spotting. This works very well. After acclimatization in and around the pond adjacent to the beaver’s lodge, and once it is dark, the animals climb over their dams, through connecting channels, to look for food in other, nearby pools.
Monday 4 April
The morning scenario is the same as yesterday: one group moves from the hut to the lodge; the other group goes for a walk near the lodge at the same time. The return journey is one without significant observations; the walk yields a Hoopoe. After breakfast we go for a stroll, and enjoy the spring sun and the surrounding landscape. The location really is magnificent. Courting birds such as Yellowhammer, Crossbill, Grey-headed Woodpecker, Grey Wagtail and Lesser Spotted Eagle complete the whole picture. A picture which would make any man instantly happy! The temperature reaches just below 20 °C; almost summer! The kids are even tempted to bring out their swimming gear.
They can continue further in their nature exploration instead of just paddling in the local river. At midday it is Jan who brings the British trio - who arrived late last night - to the hut. Afterwards both families enjoy a meal at a local restaurant before driving to a location where several walks start. We are all alone, apart from two locals.
It shows once again why Bieszczady is such a good destination at Easter: little to no human presence in the area, hungry carnivores actively looking for food, the change of season (first green) and more importantly: no pressure from hunting! We start our walk in summer temperatures. Pretty soon we encounter traces of a young bear plus those of Lynx, Wolf, Red deer, Roe deer and Pine Marten. It's that easy in Bieszczady! Armed with telescopes and binoculars, we set up in a slightly hidden location during the evening. We start the scanning session to catch sight of one of the aforementioned large carnivores. The focus is on a pasture extensively managed and surrounded by forest. It is, with a total of seven Red deer and thirteen Roe deer, only the person counting the ungulates who is kept occupied tonight; carnivores do not make an appearance. On the way back, it is through the use of the spotlight, still the ungulates which continue to appear. Deer are everywhere, after all. Approaching the well-known 'bear path' makes for some excitement. This particular gravel road was in recent years nicknamed ‘bear path’ because of the many tracks and droppings of bears that we found here. With a beautiful Ural owl in the light beam, the spot lighting session starts off promising. But before we know it the road has come to an end. We turn the spotlight off once we come across the junction with the paved road. So no carnivores today. But fate decided otherwise. When we turn the last corner, where the paved road cuts through the ridge it is a lynx that, out of the blue, does cross the road right in front of the car. Unbelievable! Confusion! Adrenaline! All of us are lacking common sense to simply connect the spotlight again. Moreover, we are in a dangerous location with the car on the road. Although its a hectic situation, fortunately a small LED lenser is dug out of a jacket pocket and we can now see the Lynx at the top of the steep roadside bank only 10 metres away. Even better than our previous encounter, being much closer to the cat this time, we are reminded of, but nevertheless still surprised by the striking characteristic lynx features suddenly exposed to us in the spotlight: those striking tufts of dark hair on the tips of the ears, that ruff of well developed side whiskers and the piercing big yellow eyes. Mind blowing! Being so close we don’t even need our binos! Just like during the previous observation, it is the Lynx himself who gazes on a scene of a group of people who, in total euphoria, do not know what to do or how to act. In order to be able to get a better and complete picture of the Lynx (at the same eye level), we climb onto the opposite verge. But that appears to be a step too far. The Lynx gets up, lays his ears flat and makes a run for it showing its typical short and black tipped, wagging tail. For a few moments we can see the cat galloping before he disappears in the adjoining forest. With this meeting, we succeeded in observing two lynxes in less than four days! It goes without saying that we decided to raise our glasses once we arrived back at the log cabins! For Bieszczady!
Tuesday 5 April
With yesterday’s Lynx sighting still echoing in our veins, this day also starts with a surge of adrenaline. It appears that, upon opening the kitchen curtains, there is a small group of EB grazing on the slope right behind the cabins where we stay! The first fresh grass on the south facing slope clearly works like a magnet. The bulls, who are so focused on foraging, completely forget about their shyness. Moreover the colossi stay a little longer once the dawn gives way to full sun. It is a fantastic opportunity to take close-ups with the telephoto lens as much as you want! At the same time, René manages to catch sight of a calling male Hazel grouse in full regalia by using a sound recording in a patch of spruce forest located nearby. The British in the hut saw the EB from yesterday again, one or two Golden Eagles as well as a Marsh Harrier on and near the carcass. The night vision session only yields them some foxes and badgers. Afterwards the two families go to the Polish Ukrainian border again. The drive towards there is cheered up with observations of Nutcracker, Black Stork and Lesser Spotted Eagle. Upon arrival the weather is downright summery. The walk itself does not really produce anything much apart from beaver lodges, Hazel Hen and Nutcracker. Actually, the car park is situated too far away from the core-area. A short conversation with a local ranger speaks volumes: two lynxes, multiple bears and wolves are roaming in the area where we are. Although this thrilling stand in info, the scanning session near the car park at night is not very spectacular. Ungulates are not coming or make late arrivals and any carnivores become a ‘not see’. You can’t always be lucky! Border patrol controls, both during the afternoon hike and during on the drive back provide the necessary delays. Tired from a long day, no more spotting is done.
Wednesday 6 April
Given the full and busy schedule from yesterday, the majority of both families choose to have a lie in. Those going for a walk at dawn near the lodge, come eyeball to eyeball with a galloping female Red deer. The behaviour of the animal, running in total panic, indicates that the residential pack of wolves is hunting in the vicinity! The predators themselves remain undetected. The British returned after their 2nd night in the hut. They added to our list of birds of prey near the carcass, with sightings of Lesser Spotted Eagle and Goshawk. Unfortunately, no carnivores for them either. At lunchtime it is Jan and René who go to the cabin. During the drive there a male Hazel grouse crosses the road. Once seated in the cabin, the attraction of the carcass proves too much for the Ravens and in no time J & R witnessing the very typical bickering of a swarm of 52 individuals on and near the carcass. Scenes that you see only when you're in a cabin! Their sudden disappearance herald another arrival: the ruler of the skies. At 4.30pm a Golden Eagle lands on the carcass. It turns out this is the ‘only’ highlight of the session in the hut.
Thursday 7 April
The house keeper of the cabins seems to be the only lucky one of the day: he sees the residential Wolf pack passing at the top of the hillside behind the cabins. After some walking near the lodge, both families eat once again at the local restaurant before driving to one of the vantage points of yesterday. First some walking alongside the meandering San river where they are all alone again. How privileged can you be? Still enjoying the summer weather too! Downright idyllic! The fresh scent, grazing and hoof tracks as well as droppings of EB draws the focus. After a few more bends in the path, the target is spotted: a large herd of EB feeds on the first vegetation on both banks of the San. Given the fact of being early afternoon, there is plenty of time to observe the herd. Head butting young males, calves playing, drinking and foraging individuals, ... Primeval nature of the top shelf!
Once at the vantage point, both families are accompanied by the British afterwards. The scanning session reveals a dark, brown black animal figure in the distance. Initially hoping it is a foraging bear but, once viewed more in detail, it appears the animal is a huge Wild boar. Once night falls, the gathering divides the group into subgroups again. Both families return to the base camp. Their spotlight session on the way back yields more EB and another Ural owl; The Britons focus on another area and see a Wolf where previously the first Lynx had been seen. This is how easy it goes here!
Friday 8 April
As the British decide not to use the hut anymore, Jan goes back there in the morning to do some clearing up and to put new batteries in the camera trap. During the drive there he sees a few young EB. Is it the eighth or the ninth encounter with this rare ungulate during this trip? You’d almost risk losing count!
The day is filled with all kinds of networking. After a final meal with Jan's contacts in the area, we hit the road one last time. Jan guides the British to a remote location for spotting Tegmalm’s owls. Playing the sound of this owl species proved productive straight away! Almost immediately one appears, right above the dense pines under which we are located. The spotlight session does not reveal any carnivores. However we do see Roe deer, Red deer, badgers, foxes and EB.
Saturday 9 April
It is raining for the first time this trip. It is time, just like the other families did on Monday and yesterday, to return home. Active Fire salamanders make the wet tarmac unsafe. We pick a few of them off the road, take some pictures and then load up the car. The Brits are given some instructions to go on a survey themselves. This appears to be a hit. Exploration from a lake situated near the hut, yields two White-backed woodpeckers, an Otter and a Wolf! Moreover, they came upon a lady who stood eye to eye with a mother bear and her cub!
There is no end of good things in Bieszcady!