On the fourth day of the safari, we found a herd of bison in a field near the Białowieża Forest. They seemed unbothered by this sudden squall. This small herd is part of the approximately 800 bison in the area.
Bison, birds and the scars of two world wars in eastern Poland
Bison. Or Buffalo, as they are called by anyone who’s seen a western, are synonymous with America’s wild, wild west of the 19th century. But did you know that Buffalo have taller cousins in Europe?
So how do you see a European bison? One way is to go on safari to a nature preserve in eastern Poland.
Some of Europe’s best nature preserves are in eastern Poland.
Eastern Poland is home to the Białowieża Forest and Biebrza Marshes. The Białowieża Forest is the largest remaining part of Europe’s primeval forest. This old-growth forest once stretched across northeastern Europe from the Atlantic Ocean to the Ural Mountains in Russia (wikipedia map here). Today, the Białowieża straddles the Polish-Belarus border with about 105 km2 of the forest in Poland.
The Biebrza Marshes are about 1,000 km2 of rivers, lakes marshes and peat bogs. It is one of the largest wildlife refuges in Europe and one of the most important breeding grounds for many wetland birds in Poland. It’s also home to many mammals and around 36 species of fish.
A wildlife safari in eastern Poland
We read about a tour company, Wild Poland, that specializes in wildlife safaris in eastern Poland. Their motto is, “If you only saw what you wanted, you probably missed a lot.” With a motto like that, we signed up for a week-long safari.
What did we see?
We saw many cool animals, of course. Over the course of the week, we saw bison, moose, a wolf, a badger, two species of deer, white storks, several species of woodpeckers, dozens of other birds, and frogs.
Our guide, who has a Ph.D., also explained the several different types of ecosystems found in the two parks.
The human part of the story
Humans have lived here for millennia. As we traveled through the modern-day cities and towns, we saw remnants of the human past.
This bluff near Wizna overlooks the Narew and Biebrza Rivers. It is also the site of a historic World War II battle known to Poles as The Polish Thermopylae. Much as in the original Battle of Thermopylae, where the Greeks fought to the death against a significantly larger Persian force, a small Polish force fought against a much larger German force. The Poles, outnumbered by at least 40 to 1, held their position for more than three days against Hans Guderian’s forces before succumbing.
Sunset over part of the Biebrza Marshes.
How was the tour?
Before getting into the details, a disclaimer: we are not affiliated with Wild Poland in any way nor do we receive any money, gifts, etc. from them.
With that out of the way, the bottom line is that we had a good adventure with them and we would recommend them to any sincere nature lover. From the time they picked us up at our hotel in Warsaw to when they dropped us off at our (different) hotel in Warsaw, every detail ~ lodgings, food, transportation, guides, etc. ~ was expertly handled.
Every day was spent either in the woods, in a birding platform or in the bus traveling to another viewing location. Some days began before breakfast and other days included a night excursion after dinner. It was only by spending so much time on the move that we were able to see so many animals.
The accommodations were very good (some photos below) and the food was typical Polish cuisine, including soups, pierogi and potatoes. Even though we were very active every day, I think the generous and tasty meals prevented us from losing any weight.
Poland continues to surprise and delight us. We had no idea that it has such rich biodiversity. So, in addition to centuries of history, great food (pierogi and pączki anyone?) and sandy beaches, add a wildlife safari to the many reasons to visit Poland.