Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Austria - part III

Where have I got to? OK... We continued on the bicycles for the 27th, by which time we were a bit fed up with them for two reasons: the first that our bums were as sore as a very sore thing, the second being N's attempt to embed me in the tarmac of the BDA-Prellenkirchen road using a blunt instrument (articulated lorry - taking the piss somewhat, I think) - all for the sake of a flock of Tree Sparrows, for pity's sake! No harm done in the end, beyond a bit of blood and some shaky legs, so... We made a circuit of the Spitzerberg this day - yet another calcareous grassland/scrub mix, by now concentrating on plants and butterflies, particularly searching for the Hermit (Charaxes briseis); which again I failed to find. Oh well. Maybe next year? The butterflies and birds were much the same as the previous couple of sites, so I won't bore you with them any further.

Our route around the Spitzerberg

The morning of August 28th saw us hit a couple of sites for Great Bustard (Otis tarda) and Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca). We managed a couple of female bustards lurking in their usual field, but the eagles - along with most other raptor species - remained frustratingly elusive. We did see a Black Woodpecker in a slightly unexpected patch of woodland, so that made up for it a bit. The type of woodland made the sighting unexpected, not the woodland itself: we'd been sat in its shade for about 2 hours by that stage, so that would just have been plain stupid. Obviously something we're not.


We then returned to the house and gathered our crap together for an extended stay at the Vogelberingungsstation on the Anlandebecken at Hohenau an der March. In plain English, that's the bird-ringing station at the settling ponds at Hohenau. The Kuehlteich - previously such a cracking site for birds in this corner of the world it was designated part of Austria's Natura 2000 network, is now dry for the second year in a row, and in the process of being turned into a carp-fishing pond. Presumably this will mean the site is de-listed, which will only add to Austria's problems in terms of lack of designated Natura 2000 sites, but I digress. The upshot is that the site is far less attractive to waterfowl and waders, so our highlight in this respect was the continual presence of a pair of Ferruginous Duck (Aythya ferruginea) on one of the 'zwischenlagen' and a Black-necked Grebe (Podiceps nigricollis), which promptly hoofed it after our first day. N and I made a quick tour of the net-rides so she could familiarise herself with the site and some of it's birds, and we began to settle in.

Thrush Nightingale and Common Nightingale - a comparison

The standard fare over the next few days was pretty normal: small numbers of Black Storks (Ciconia nigra) passing south over us, a variety of soaring raptors each day; including Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo), Red and Black Kites (Milvus milvus and M. migrans) and White-tailed Eagle (Haliaetus albicilla), and a steady passage of Tree Pipit (Anthus trivialis) and Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava). The first weekend also provided a few decent birds to spice things up a bit: daily groups of Bee-eater and a cracking Thrush Nightingale (Luscinia luscinia) in the nets on the first morning - handily coming in with a Common Nightingale (L. megarhynchos) to provide a nice comparison! Red-backed Shrikes (Lanius collurio) appeared to be trundling through steadily and the resident pair of Great Grey Shrike (L. excubitor) were frequently hunting in the field opposite the cabin. Blah, blah, blah...

We decided to stay at the ringing station between the two weekends' work, so we could explore the surroundings in a little more detail. This takes us to September 2nd: a cycle tour into Slovakia.

I've always wanted to know what the countryside was like on the eastern side of the river March. Now I know: it's bloody beautiful! Far less industrial agriculture than on the Austrian side, the floodplain hay meadows on the Slovakian side are a Ramsar site in their own right (see http://ramsar.wetlands.org/Database/Searchforsites/tabid/765/Default.aspx for the Ramsar site overview). Our short foray into the country yielded 61 species of bird, including 5 woodpecker species (Black, Great, Middle and Lesser Spotted, and Green; we also heard Grey-headed at Hohenau), numerous Bee-eaters, a late juvenile Common Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus), 9 species of raptor - including White-tailed Eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla), Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis) and Saker (Falco cherrug) - Black Stork, Pied Flycatcher (Ficedula hypoleuca) and Hawfinch (Coccothraustes coccothraustes)! We also found ourselves cycling the ominously-named 'Iron Curtain Cycle Route', which was rather beautiful, in the end.

'Bird of the day' title went, however, to the rather confused-looking young dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius) that we nearly flattened on the road. Who said dormice don't ever touch the ground?!

Caterpillar of Comma Polygonum c-album
On the 3rd of September, we opted to try the other neighbouring country: the Czech Republic. We headed north of Hohenau, across the Berhnardsthaler platte to the village of Bernhardsthal. The route was designed to take in what is a stunning area for soaring raptors. The prime target was Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca)... The first birds to appear when we hit the plateau were Marsh Harrier, quickly followed by both Red Kite and Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo). A pit-stop was suggested by N, which was rapidly turned into an extended raptor-viewing session: a pair of adult Imperial Eagles began to circle up from the fields in front of us, to be joined by Common Kestrel, Buzzard, Marsh and Montagu's Harrier (Circus pygargus)! When we tore ourselves away and headed north, we were treated to a further 3 Imperials - all juveniles - and a trio of Saker, all accompanied by a slew of more common raptors and the odd Black Stork here & there.

Montage of 2 juvenile Imperial Eagles, Bernhardsthaler Platte

We trolled on into the Czech Republic (second new country in two days for me) and made a quick circuit in the countryside south of Breclav. Nice, but somehow not as superb as the Slovakian day trip. Instead of the lush hay meadows and deciduous floodplain forest, we were travelling through young pine plantation and oak woodland on somewhat sandy soil. Rather like parts of Spain, in my experience. The return route was uneventful, travelling down the Thaya and the March to Rabensburg, then back along the road to the ringing station.

N returns to Austria, from the Czech Republic

The second weekend at Hohenau was much as the first; a more autumnal feeling was in the air, with the first Robin (Erithacus rubecula) and Dunnock (Prunella modularis) turning up in the nets. I was also able to take up an opportunity of joining a student working on the dragonfly diversity of the floodplain forests of the March, who took me round four transects in Droesing. Our total of twelve species included one new to me - Lestes virens - and one new to her - Sympetrum flaveolum.

Western Willow Emerald (Lestes (or Chalcolestes) viridis)

Female Small Spreadwing (Lestes virens)

Cricket sp (Phaneroptera falcata?)

Agile Frog (Rana dalmatina)

I'll post a full trip report with species lists at some stage on www.jerbarker.co.uk...

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