a 7-day educational expedition about large carnivores, mountain ecology, and modern conservation in the European wild
URSINE EXPLORATION in the SLOVAKIAN HIGH TATRAS
DAY 1: Sunday
Meeting: Krakow Balice airport, in Poland, at 16:00 (the pick-up time may be flexible to accommodate the travel arrangements of all participants).
Evening: Drive to our accommodation in the Tatra National Park (about 4h), Slovakia. Social event at the cottage, and presentation of the Institute and its tour program by the Diakron staff.
DAY 2: Monday
Morning: Interactive preparation for our first bear excursion. We will learn about the methods and techniques that naturalists use to improve the odds of encountering elusive creatures in nature.
Afternoon and Evening: Exploration of areas we selected during our morning investigations in the hope of finding traces of bears, and, with luck, observing our first plantigrade in the wild. We will retrieve motion-activated cameras, which have been deployed in the field in the past months and learn how to use these devices. In addition, we will learn to register the behavior of animals at long distances using digiscoping.
DAY 3: Tuesday
Morning: At dawn, we will reach a nearby clearing, where naturalist and artist Jean Chevallier will give his first introductory drawing lesson. We will learn about the elementary techniques of naturalist field drawing (no prior experience required), and most importantly, experience how drawing conveys a unique appreciation for the artistry of the wild. We will be on the lookout for roe deer, wild boar and red fox. With luck we might even encounter the local wolf pack, or the lesser spotted eagle.
Afternoon: Our second guest, conservation biologist and wildlife movie producer Erik Balaz, will lead us to an ancient Arolla pine forest in one of the most remote corners of the park. This forest could very well be one of the oldest mountain forests in Europe, with trees commonly reaching 500 to 800 years old. We will learn about the functioning of ancient forests and their crucial role for biodiversity. We might encounter the three-toed woodpecker, capercaillie or hazel grouse.
More about our Jean Chevallier: https://www.jeanchevallier.fr
More about Erik Balaz: http://www.arollafilm.com/en/o-nas
DAY 4: Wednesday
All-day: Day hike in the mountains to reach lush alpine pastures, glacial lakes and rugged mountain ridges. There, we will contemplate our perspective of the bear habitat across the Tatras mountain range. We will have good chances to see Tatras chamois, alpine marmots and golden eagles.
Evening: Erik will show us a wildlife documentary produced in the areas we are exploring during the tour. He will give us a behind-the-scenes look at the production of the documentary and explain the implications of his work on local conservation efforts.
DAY 5: Thursday
Morning: Jean will give us a second introductory drawing lesson along a river at the foothills of the Park. There, we will improve our drawing techniques and build on what we learned during our first lesson. We may encounter the white-throated dipper, the European kingfisher, an otter or even the rare black stork.
Afternoon: Bear tracking and observation excursion. Jean will give a third drawing lesson focused on the bear as we wait patiently and observe. The area is also ideal for encountering the nutcracker and red deer.
DAY 6: Friday
All-day: Erik will take us on an excursion following the steps of the bears in a remote valley of the park. There, we will move using bear trails, identify the natural components of their diet, inspect rub trees, and likely discover bedding and bathing areas. In the evening, we will patiently try to observe them moving through a tranquil glen. Throughout the day we will also learn about the crucial role of ecological disturbances in the dynamics of the bear habitat.
DAY 7: Saturday
Erik Balaz will take us on a day-trip to learn about the challenges and opportunities for conservation in the Tatras, which we will use as a case study to learn about integrated conservation approaches.
Morning: We will familiarize ourselves with the history of the area and the conservation successes which followed the creation of the National Park. In particular, we will witness landscape changes by comparing historic aerial pictures with our field observations, and explore a forest, which has since naturally regenerated, following a devastating windstorm a hundred years ago.
Afternoon: Visit of an exploited forest and discussion of the challenges brought by disturbances – insect outbreaks and windstorms – to forestry and protected area management. In the second part of the afternoon, we will visit an area targeted by an ongoing rewilding project, and learn about future conservation opportunities in the area.
Evening: Erik will take us to an area where beavers have returned after a century of absence. We will learn about the ecology of this fascinating keystone species, whose engineering works dramatically change the landscape. We will hope to see their silhouette on the pond, and with luck, we might even encounter the otter.
DAY 8: Sunday
Morning: Wildlife watching in the clearings, close to our accommodation; departure at 10:00 and arrival at Krakow Balice airport at 14:00.