ROYAL LAZIENKI PARK is a wonderful place at all times of the year, but autumn is particularly resplendent. Not only are you swallowed into a kaleidoscope of colour, into the engoldened Polish autumn, but the wildlife within (becoming a little less wild with each passing season) are a little more, how shall we say, ‘friendly’.
Tits and nuthatches regularly perch on the fingertips of seeded pedestrians. Crows and jays will actually come within a few feet of you to snap up that carelessly thrown almond. Red squirrels, the cheekiest of the lot, will run up your jeans as if you were a tree.
About the only animal that doesn’t get too close is the ever-suspicious magpie. But then you’ve got to love that in-built disdain and distrust for the human species. I admire the magpie for never getting too close. Those Siberian rooks too, always with one eye on you, are the first to flee should you mosey in on their patch. History has told them too much about humans, too much that they can’t afford to ignore. The tits and squirrels are much more trusting, but then they’re much more agile too.
As the trees go skeletal, and the leaves make a carpet of the park, there is real opportunity for close encounters, encounters that go far beyond watching birds through binoculars, and go some way to fostering a quality of being in the world that transcends the all too often human.
A late autumn morning in Lazienki, like a midsummer’s day in Powazki, is something of a Varsovian gem not to be missed.
By mid to late November, the first snows usually fall in Warsaw. Here, a nuthatch and a great tit go to work on some sunflower seeds.
For a country popularised for its 'ginger' heritage my native Scotland is sadly absent of any 'ginger' squirrels. They have been driven out by the more adaptable (yet infinitely less tufty-eared) grey squirrel. You can imagine my joy then when I realised Warsaw's parks were full of these 'little gingers'. They really are the cutest most curious animals, and they really do treat your jeans like trees. The other day this little guy even tried to nibble my camera lens.
All creatures great and small: an adult male (note the red nape ) great spotted woodpecker above, and a great tit below. The colourful cannondale attracts a great deal of attention, most of it non-human. In spring and summer, wasps, bees and butterflies find it particularly alluring.
A roe buck enjoying some late winter grazing in the north end of Lazienki.
On a cold day in December these peacocks will take your hand off if you're holding anything that vaguely resembles food. As I placated this fiery one with a few flung bread crumbs a red squirrel tried to make off with my gloves which I had laid on the bench aside me. In winter, Sunday is really the only day these guys can be guaranteed a feed, and maybe Saturday too. By mid-week, when the park is empty of feeding human hands any food is quickly pounced upon. Whether jays or rooks (even the magpies are getting closer), squirrels or peacocks, it gets to the point on a real bitingly cold Friday morning as you prepare to sprinkle the ground with a little bread and cheese that you almost fear for your life as birds and animals throw a cordon round you. With scenes almost reminiscent of Hitchcock, one can perhaps understand how bare nature's larder has become, and just how cold it can get even here in the centre of the city, and just how far these animals will go to get a little food into their stomachs.
January, 2009, this jay, belly-deep in fresh snow, is looking for the slice of snickers I threw it. I've seen jays here, so eager for a bite in these snowbound days, perch on the fingertips of one of the old-timers who regularly feeds them. You can see the Siberian rook behind is much more cautious of human activity. And don't worry, it didn't take long before the jay was tucking into a tasty mix of nougat, caramel and milk chocolate.
This little guy got some snickers too. I mean, how could you refuse such a face!
Perfectly camouflaged (save perhaps for its little red skullcap) it's easy to see why the green woodpecker spend's most of its time in the short grass than on the trunks of trees. There are at least two pairs which inhabit Lazienki, one at its north end and the other at its southern end. With their unmistakeable yaffle cry they really are beautiful birds.