Between birds and bison: Exploring the Polish Oder Delta

Aukje Van Gerven from The European Safari Company traveled in March to the Oder Delta in Poland to visit our partners on the field and experience first hand the magic of one of Europe's most important birdlife hotspots. 

"In March this year, I finally get to visit the Oder Delta in Poland, which has been on my list for a while. Three days after my return, the reality of Covid-19 hit Europe, and the possibility to travel was no more."

Photography credits: Aukje Van Gerven

I had visited the Germanic side previous year, so I was really curious to see if there was a lot of difference between the countries. After all, it is one big area: The Oder Delta is located on the Baltic coast of Poland and Germany, a unique and wild region boasting a rich mosaic of terrestrial, marine and freshwater ecosystems.

Arriving into Berlin is the easiest way to visit the Oder Delta, for both sides. For Poland, it’s a straightforward 2, 5 hour drive north, past the city of Szczecin. Public transport is not easy, so I opt for a rental car. Once I leave the freeway, I am driving on small roads in rural northern Poland – how exciting!

I only have two days in the area, and wanted to make the most of it. I arrive late in the only hotel in Stepnica, the Tawerna Panorama. Late, but hungry.

Lucky for me, I could still sample some local Polish fish (we are in a delta after all!) with potatoes and salad. Slept like a baby.

The next morning, I get up early and walk around in the area. The hotel is actually built right on the waterfront so you can look over the lagoon, which is real nice. After breakfast, I meet with my guide Iwona. She and her husband Reginald are running a small local travel agency and guesthouse in Kopice, just minutes from Stepnica.

Iwona takes me around that day to see the best places to spot wildlife and to the wildlife hides. We start off really well by spotting a big white-tailed eagle in the top of a barren tree. Such a magnificent sight.

We will see an incredible array of birdlife that day – something the Oder Delta is known for.

White-tailed eagle, lesser spotted eagle, osprey, white stork, black stork, eagle owl, Eurasian crane, aquatic warbler, whiskered tern, white-winged tern, black-winged stilt, great snipe, three harrier species and many other birds have stable populations in the Oder Delta region.

The most interesting thing for me that day is that we spot birds such as the siskin and the golden oriole – birds that were present in my hometown in the Netherlands when I was a kid, but have seem to have disappeared since then. I can still sing all the childhood songs about these birds so it’s real fun to see the little birds again that feature in these songs.

Aside from birds, there are also a lot of mammals to be spotted. That day I see roe dear, fox, a badger castle and signs of beaver. Iwona takes me to see two different hides: one in the field to observe mammals, and one on the edge of the water to observe birds.

When I arrive at their guesthouse, she also shows me the suits that she used with guests to create a disguise, and enables them to come closer to wildlife. It’s quite frankly a rather hilarious suit, covering me from head to toe and making me look like a modern day scarecrow! It’s good to share a laugh.

I meet Reginald that afternoon as he is testing a special kind of hide: a small floating hide on the water, where you are half immersed in the water and can photograph the birds from water level.

We see Konik ponies and Scottish highlander on the way back, who are used to graze the area.

After a full day in the field, we need a good hearty Polish meal, so we finish with a warm soup, and a giant raspberry merengue pie – a local delicacy.

The next day, I stop in Szczecin to meet Mathias and Therese, who are running a small eco tour company in this area, specializing in taking guests on 4x4 safaris, spotting bison and birds on the way. They are retired professors in biology, open their house for me, and I get treated to a lovely local Polish spice cake. That’s a winner – the way to my heart is definitely through my stomach.

The differences between the Germanic side and the Polish side of the Oder Delta from a touristic point of view are massive: the German side is much more developed, the accommodation is much more luxurious, and it is a lot busier on the German side. But I appreciate the quiet rural charm of the Polish side, and the local people that are trying to make a living of nature based tourism here.

One thing is sure, if you’re into birds, the Oder Delta is for you!

Would you like to take this trip as well? I have two options for you:

Three days birding & wildlife

Three days 4x4 bison and birding safari

Many thanks to all our local partners who go out of their way to make our guests comfortable and make their experience even more special.