birding-aus European trip

To: Birding-aus <>
Subject: birding-aus European trip
From: John Clifton-Everest <>
Date: Mon, 17 May 1999 15:07:34 +1100
I have just returned from a two-month trip to East Central Europe, and
thought members of birding-aus might like some news of it, if only so
that those who, like myself, spent their formative birding-years in
Europe can indulge a little nostalgia.  A scientific report is obviously

It was really a work-trip, taking me mainly to Germany and Austria, but
also to the Czech Republic and Ireland, and I only had the weekends (and
not all of them) for birds.  But I was close to some interesting places,
and managed to find a few species I had not seen before, mainly ones
that are commoner in the East than in southern England, where I grew
up.  These included Crested Tit (Parus cristatus), Crossbill (Loxia
curvirostra), Serin (Serinus serinus), Great Grey Shrike (Lanius
excubitor), Garganey (Anas querquedula), Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus),
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopus  minor), Green Sandpiper (Tringa
ochropus), European Hobby (Falco subbuteo), Black Tern (Chlidonias
niger), and one comparative rarity, the White-backed Woodpecker
(Dendrocopus leucotos).

As for the highlight, you can take your pick from the following:
1. A flock of c. 20 (!) Great Bustards (Otis tarda), seen from a moving
train a few kilometres West of Marchegg on the Austrian/Slovakian
border.  This was not a new species for me, though it is considered
endangered.  There is a place in the very corner of Austria up against
the Hungarian border where they can regularly be seen and there are even
facilities to help birdos.  But I have never seen this many before, and
was so surprised that for a moment I thought they must be roedeer, or
hares.  They really were bustards! It is a large area of steppe-country
(several hundred square kilometres), and though I had heard previously
that there were bustards there, I was probably very lucky the flock just
happened to be in that spot.  Normally they will flush at about 400
metres before a human-being, but have clearly got used to the trains
rolling past and never leaving their tracks. These were less than 150
metres off.
2. The huge flocks of waterfowl, particularly Greylag Geese, in the
National Park at the Neusiedler See, East of Vienna.  On one eutropic
lake, the Illmitzer Zicklacke, between the village of Illmitz and the
Neusiedler See, I found among many other things (hoards of Ruff and
Redshank) 11 species of duck; in fact every species of inland duck you
normally find in Eastern Europe except one, the Ferruginous Duck, which
does occur there but escaped me.  Plenty of Avocets, Storks, and
Black-necked Grebes too.  If only I had been there three weeks later I
would have caught the main wave of spring migrants.
3. Right on the waterfront at Clontarf, a suburb of Dublin, were
hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Brent Geese, fattening up for the Spring
journey to Greenland, with as many Turnstones running among them.
4. Three European Cranes, seen from the train, parading themselves in a
deserted field between Rostock and Berlin on the North German plain.
5. The experience of seeing on one day, in the woods just south of
Lomnice nad Luznice in the South of the Czech Republic, the full trio of
spotted Woodpeckers: Dendrocopus maior,  Dendrocopus  medius  and
Dendrocopus  minor, the Greater Spotted, the Middle Spotted and the
Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers.  A birdwatcher?s paradise of forests and
lakes this place, and not another birdwatcher in sight.  All in all, it
was a good trip for woodpeckers: apart from the White-backed, seen in
the willows at the northern end of the Neusiedler See, and numerous
Black Woodpeckers in eastern Austria, there was the Green Woodpecker
that sat in the top of a dead tree on a roundabout at a very busy
intersection in Prague, and shrieked its head off.
6. Seven(!) European Hobbies catching insects over the lake and then
circling above my head at the Speichersee outside Munich, in Bavaria.
The locals told me that one or two are not uncommon, but no-one had ever
seen a group this big.  They were presumably on northerly passage.  The
species rarely breeds in Bavaria now.  The Speichersee is well worth a
visit, if anybody finds himself in Munich with a day to spare.  In all I
have spent two years of my life in Munich, but never knew of this
location until this trip.  There are large numbers of breeding ducks and
geese and active cormorant, gull and heron breeding-colonies.  Plenty of
cuckoos and warblers too, and more Black-necked and Great Crested
Grebes.  The numbers of waterfowl probably swell even higher in winter.
John Clifton-Everest

Associate Professor John M. Clifton-Everest
Department of Germanic Studies
University of Sydney
(61) (2) 9351 2262
Fax (61) (2) 9351 5318

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