Trip Report: Vienna and Neusiedl Lake (Austria), June 14-18, 1997

Theo Hofmann, 199 Arnold Avenue, Thornhill Ontario L4J 1C1, Canada;

Before starting this report I would like to thank those Chatters, Dennis Forsythe and Francis Toldi, who were so kind as to give me useful hints on birding in the Neusiedl See area, which was the main "magnet" that drew me to Austria.

The other magnet was to see old friends in Vienna whom I had not seen for some ten years. Fortunately they are interested in nature and were most willing to spend the weekend of 14/15 June driving me to two good birding places. After that I had two more days for birding on my own. I spent these in Illmitz, a small town on Lake Neusiedl.

(I will not mention the Latin names of the species described in this narrative, but will include them in the full list of sightings which follows this narrative.)

On the first day of the week-end, 14 June, my friends and I went to the March-Au, a Nature Reserve on the Border with Slovakia. The reserve protects a large wetland, whose avian centre piece is a colony of White Storks which breed there on dead trees, unlike the Storks in most other parts of W Europe where they breed on rooftops of churches and houses. There were at least 6 active nests visible from the observation tower with up to three young in them. The wetland also houses Black Storks which are quite secretive, but we were lucky in seeing three of them circling over the area. Other interesting sightings were Honey Buzzard , Long-legged Buzzard and the "Steppe" subspecies of the Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo vulpinus). Many warblers and other passerines, including a Red-backed Shrike were seen and heard.

On Sunday we drove to the Lake Neusiedl area with the main goal to see a colony of Great Bustard at the Hansag Nature Reserve near the Hungarian border. We arrived on the observation platform just in time to be told that a female had been in good view, but had just disappeared into the high vegetation, not to reappear for the hour we could spend waiting. Actually, mid-June is rather late for Great Bustards. The males had apparently left for Hungary and because of the dense, tall vegetation the chances of seeing females were small. Earlier in the season the Bustards are almost guaranteed in the Hansag Reserve, although the colony is rather small and larger colonies are found across the border in Hungary. A small compensation for missing the Bustards was a good view of a pair of Curlews , a Tawny Pipit , several Whinchats and hearing the ever elusive Quails . We then stopped at the Zick Lacke where Spoonbills, Red-crested Pochards and Avocets in good numbers delighted our eyes.

One of my target species was the Red-footed Falcon. We had been told by local birders whom we had met at the Hansag Reserve that the best chance of seeing them was to drive the secondary roads of the Parndorfer Platte to the north and north-east of Lake Neusiedl. We unsuccessfully examined every Kestrel and Common Buzzard in the hope of turning them into a Red-footed Falcon.

On Monday, 16 June, I took the train to Neusiedl-am-See and a bus to Illmitz, probably the best town for use as a centre for exploring the areas east of Lake Neusiedl. I found excellent B.& B. accommodation with the family Schneider at Gartenzeile 1, Illmitz, where I also rented a bicycle. A bicycle is probably the best means of getting access to the many lakes and ponds (Lacken) which are not accessible to motorised vehicles. I started off before lunch looking around the town where there were large numbers of bushes and trees providing good habitats for the usual passerines. The highlight of the trip soon came with a hat trick that would take some beating. I had settled down in a cafe in the centre of the town watching three White Storks on their separate nests on nearby houses when I suddenly saw a woodpecker landing on an old Acacia tree trunk only about one metre from the main road through the town. It clung to the trunk long enough to be identified as a male Syrian Woodpecker, one of my target birds. It soon disappeared into a cavity which, as it turned out was its nest. Soon after, he left and was followed by a female. For the next half hour they kept visiting the nest in spite of traffic of all kinds on the road. I stopped watching, however, when out of the corner of my eye I saw a large bird flying low over the houses. To my amazement here was another target bird, a Bittern of which I had an excellent view as it flew directly overhead. What a thrill, especially as I had spent many hours at various times in Britain scanning in vain the reeds at Minsmere and many other places for a glimpse of this bird that is even more secretive than our American Bittern (Botaurus lentiginosus). I hopped on the bicycle straight away in the hope of getting even better looks of the Bittern. My route took me onto a lane between two large reed-beds when I glimpsed a small bird emerging from an Aspen tree. I stopped and saw a pouch-shaped nest, reminiscent of a nest of a Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula) hanging from a branch. Could this be the nest of yet another of my target birds, a Penduline Tit? I waited and sure enough after a short while the bird, a Penduline Tit, came back with nesting material and busied him(her)self in fitting this around the opening. I was totally fascinated and forgot about searching for the Bittern while I was watching the activity at this nest.

After all this excitement I cycled to the WWF Nature Information Centre at Seewinkelhof, about 8 km E of Illmitz, where Dr. Bernhard Kohler gave me much valuable information on where to find the best birds. (WWF can be reached by e-mail at Dr. Kohler was very helpful and suggested how I could spend the two days most profitably. Following his suggestion I spent the rest of the afternoon at and around the Lange Lacke which is close to the WWF Station and the other lakes and ponds near it. This yielded good landbirds, like Grasshopper Warbler, Corn Buntings, Little Owl, Marsh Harriers and Yellow (Blue-headed) Wagtails. The lakes were teeming with waterbirds of which the most notable were three Whiskered Terns, unexpected Lifers for me. Great-crested Grebes, Great Egrets, Spoonbills, Swan families, flocks of Grey-lag Geese, Red-crested Pochards, Pochard, Shoveler, Gadwall, Teal, Avocet, Black-winged Stilt and chicks of Lapwing were among the more notable species.

The evening was spent in the Common Room at the B. & B. in exchanging the day's experiences with other birders and bringing the diary up-to-date. On 17th June I went out at daybreak to a drizzly morning and sampled the avian fauna of Illmitz and the fields around the village. I had another good sighting of a Bittern in flight, as well as a Purple Heron. At and near the Zick Lacke the notable species were Spoonbill, Black-winged Stilt and Stonechat. On the east side of Illmitz I saw yet another Bittern in flight and flushed a Grey Partridge. The Syrian Woodpeckers in the town were still active at their nest. After breakfast the rain started seriously and I stayed at the B. & B. until lunchtime. The skies cleared to allow me to visit the reed fields along Lake Neusiedl for the afternoon. The highlights were 3 male Garganey, Spotted Redshanks, as well as a Teal (Green-winged), a Cormorant (Great) and some Kentish (Snowy) Plovers.I also heard another Quail.

On 18th June I did short tour around Illmitz again, to find a pair of Black Redstart among the more common species. I then returned to Vienna by bus and train to spend the afternoon in the Schönbrunn Park on the remote chance of finding a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, an elusive species which I have sought unsuccessfully in Britain, Switzerland and as it turned out -- not surprisingly -- in Vienna. My other target bird was the Grey-headed Woodpecker. The best sightings in the park were a pair of Nuthatches, a pair of Blackcaps, a pair of Syrian Woodpeckers and Great Spotted Woodpeckers with one juvenile. I heard one woodpecker calling which was either a Green Woodpecker or a Grey-headed Woodpecker, but unfortunately I am not sufficiently familiar with the calls to tell the difference. I was unable to locate the bird.

With some short looks at the interesting buildings belonging to the Schönbrunn Schloss my visit to Vienna and Austria came to an end. I was pleased to get 93 species, three of them my Life target birds and one unexpected Lifer, but also sorry to miss those others, for which I thought I had a good chance, namely the Red-footed Falcon, and the Grey-headed Woodpecker. For my other target birds, the Ferruginous Duck, the Great Bustard, the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Moustached Warbler, Savi's Warbler, and Bearded Tit I was obviously too late in the season. Oh well, I will just have to go again.

List of species seen in Austria, 14 -18 June 1997.

Note: Nomenclature, Spelling and Order as in Lars Jonsson, Birds of Europe.

English Name                 Latin Name                   Locations:
                                                           N=L.Neusiedl area;
Great Crested Grebe          Podiceps cristatus            N,, Lange Lacke
Cormorant             (2)    Phalacrocorax carbo           N.
Eurasian Bittern  (3)        Botaurus stellaris            N., Illmitz
Great Egret                  Egretta alba                  N.
Grey Heron     (heronry)     Ardea cinerea                 M., N.
Purple Heron    (1)          Ardea purpurea                N., Lake Neusiedl
White Stork                  Ciconia ciconia               M., N., Illmitz
Black Stork           (3)    Ciconia nigra                 M.
Spoonbill             (4)    Platalea leucorodia           N., Zick Lacke
Mute Swan                    Cygnus olor                   N.
Greylag Goose                Anser anser                   N.
Mallard                      Anas platyrhynchos            M., N., S.
Gadwall                      Anas strepera                 N.
Shoveler              (2)    Anas clypeata                 N.
Teal                  (4)    Anas crecca                   N.
Garganey              (3)    Anas querquedula              N.,Unterstinkersee
Red-crested Pochard          Netta rufina                  N., Zick Lacke
Pochard               (2)    Aythya ferina                 N., Woerten Lacke
Black Kite            (2)    Milvus migrans                M.,
Marsh Harrier         (5)    Circus aeruginosus            M., N.
Honey Buzzard         (1)    Pernis apivorus               M.
Buzzard                      Buteo buteo vulpinus          M., N.
Long-legged Buzzard   (1)    Buteo rufinus                 M.
Kestrel                      Falco tinnunculus             widespread
Grey Partridge        (1)    Perdix perdix                 N. near Illmitz
Pheasant                     Phasianus colchicus           N.
Quail        (1 heard)       Coturnix coturnix             N., Hansag Reserve
Coot                         Fulica atra                   N.
Black-winged Stilt           Himantopus himantopus         N., Zick and Lange L.
Avocet                       Recurvirostra avosetta        N., Zick Lacke
Little Ringed Plover         Charadrius dubius             N., Zick and Lange L.
Kentish Plover    (5)        Charadrius alexandrinus       N., Zick Lacke
Lapwing                      Vanellus vanellus             N.
Curlew          (2)          Numenius arquata              N., Hansag Reserve
Black-tailed Godwit          Limosa limosa                 N., Zick and Lange L.
Redshank                     Tringa totanus                N., ibidem
Spotted Redshank     (1)     Tringa erythropus             N., Sandeck
Common Sandpiper   (1)       Actitis hypoleucos            N., ibidem
Black-headed Gull            Larus ridibundus              N.,
Black Tern        (2)        Chlidonias niger              N., Lange Lacke
Whiskered Tern    (3)        Chlidonias leucopterus        N., Woerten Lacke
Rock Dove                    Columba livia                 widespread
Stock Dove       (1)         Columba oenas                 S.
Wood Pigeon                  Columba palumbus              widespread
Collared Dove                Streptopelia decaocto         widespread
Turtle Dove                  Streptopelia turtur           widespread
Cuckoo       (2 heard)       Cuculus canorus               M., N.
Little Owl         (2)       Athene noctua                 N., near Lange L.
Swift                        Apus apus                     widespread
Great Spotted Woodpecker (3) Dendrocopos major             M., S., Vienna
Syrian Woodpecker     (6)    Dendrocopos syriacus          N., Illmitz, S.
Crested Lark          (1)    Galerida cristata             N., Parndorf Platte
Skylark                      Alauda arvensis                ibidem
Sand Martin                  Riparia riparia               N.
Swallow                      Hirundo rustioca              widespread
House Martin                 Delichon urbica               widespread
Water Pipit         (1)      Anthus spinoletta             N., Lange Lacke
Tawny Pipit         (1)      Anthus campestris             N., Hansag Reserve
Pied Wagtail                 Motacilla alba                widespread
Yellow Wagtail               Motacilla flava               widespread
Dunnock             (1)      Prunella modularis            N., WWF Station
Redstart           (2)       Phoenicurus phoenicurus       M., N.,
Black Redstart     (5)       Phoenicurus ochruros          N., Illmitz
Whinchat            (3)      Saxicola rubetra              N., Hansag reserve
Stonechat           (1)      Saxicola torquata             N., Zick Lacke
Blackbird                    Turdus merula                 very widespread
Song Thrush         (2)      Turdus philomelos             M., S.
Grasshopper Warbler  (1)     Locustella naevia             N., Lange Lacke
Sedge Warbler                Acrocephalus schoenobaenus    N.
Reed Warbler                 Acrocephalus scirpaceus       N.
Blackcap            (pair)   Silvia atricapilla            S.
Chiffchaff                   Phylloscopus collybita        M., S.
Spotted Flycatcher  (1)      Muscicapa striata             M.
Penduline Tit       (1)      Remiz pendulinus              N., near Illmitz
Blue Tit                     Parus caeruleus               M.
Great Tit                    Parus major                   M., S.
Nuthatch           (2)       Sitta europaea                S.
Red-backed Shrike   several  Lanius collurio               M., N.
Starling        thousands    Sturnus vulgaris              widespread
Golden Oriole      (1)       Oriolus oriolus               N., Illmitz
Jay                (2)       Garrulus glandarius           S.
Magpie                       Pica pica                     widespread
Hooded Crow                  Corvus corone cornix          widespread
House Sparrow                Passer domesticus             widespread
Tree Sparrow                 Passer montanus               N., WWF Station
Chaffinch                    Fringilla coelebs             fairly widespread
Serin              (1)       Serinus serinus               N., Illmitz
Greenfinch                   Carduelis chloris             widespread
Goldfinch                    Carduelis carduelis           widespread
Linnet                       Carduelis cannabina           N.
Corn Bunting      (5+)       Miliaria calandra             N.
Yellowhammer                 Emberiza citrinella           M.
Reed Bunting                 Emberiza schoeniclus          N.

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