Poland, Gdańsk: Park Oliwski

The park in Oliwa, a district of Gdańsk, has a very long history. Some sources claim it started out as a monastery garden in the 12th or 13th century, although it was in the 18th century that it was expanded and redesigned closer to what it looks like now. With historical buildings, small museums and tree-lined alleys by water features, it fills with leisurely strolling families and couples on the weekends. It’s the type of park where you stay on the path, off the trimmed grass, much to the relief of the very skittish white wagtails.

white wagtail

In the UK we have two subspecies of white wagtail. The continental type, alba, is known simply as white wagtail, while the UK subspecies with darker upperparts, yarrellii, is called a pied wagtail. In Poland, not counting vagrants, there is only the alba subspecies.

In early spring the most numerous birds in the park are either mallards or street pigeons. Pigeons like to hang out around a “Don’t feed the pigeons” sign by one of the park entrances. Some mallards are ringed.

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In mid-March the only birds singing during the day were great tits.

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Squirrels were trying not to attract attention, but they can’t help standing out.

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Grey squirrels haven’t made their way to Poland yet so red squirrels are the “default” park squirrel. They’re smaller than greys and far more timid. Other members of the squirrel family – alpine marmots and speckled ground squirrels – have a more limited distribution and are such a rare sight that most Poles think there is only one species of squirrel in Poland.

Despite plenty of grassy areas resembling road verges they like to patrol, there were no jackdaws at the time, but two other corvids caught my attention. The first one was a jay, calling as it bustled among the branches, making frequent descends to pick something up from the ground.

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The second was a hooded crow, which fits the same ecological niche in Poland as the carrion crow in the UK.

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The crow was stripping bits of bark from the branch. Not sure if it was looking for insects or collecting the wispy strings for use in nest-building, but it quickly became alerted to the fact that I was staring and taking pictures, and it cawed at me a few times, not resuming its task until I went away.

While the carefully selected ornamental plants were still dormant, butterburs pleased the eye breaking the monotony of a trimmed edge of a pond with their striking purple flowers, which appear before new leaves are grown.

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The butterburs and singing great tits were the first signs of spring I noticed in urban areas while in Poland.

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