Here's a brief report of my recent trip to Central Europe (Prague, Czech Republic; Munich, Germany; and Padova and Venice, Italy) from the 18th to 30th of September, 1995. The trip was some business and some pleasure, with the pleasure part being split among many interests, of which birding was only one of them. Consequently, my species list is not real long, however I think that this report will be of interest to anyone visiting these areas.
This was my first visit to mainland Europe, however I had been to the UK twice, and Israel once, so I was familiar with the more common species. In total, I identified 60 species on this trip, of which 13 were life birds.
Other general notes: I carried The Collins Guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe with me, as well as a pair of Nikon 9x30 binoculars. Both were adequate, though neither would have been my first choice if this had been a more intense birding trip. However they pack small and light, which was critical for this trip.
I also made an Excel spreadsheet, which has, on one page, all the birds I could possibly see (plus a few extras), and 4 columns to make check marks. This served as a quick and easy way to keep a daily checklist, as well as a way to keep track of birds by country (of course I've now got a Czech list, a Germany list, an Austria list (4 species!), and an Italy list. I'm sure a traveler's checklist of the birds of Europe must exist somewhere, but I couldn't find one. If anyone would like a copy of this spreadsheet just let me know, and I'll email it to you.
Left Washington, Dulles airport in the evening of the 18th, and arrived in Frankfurt, Germany the following morning (19th). A few species were seen while taxiing in Frankfurt, including BUZZARD, EURASIAN KESTREL, WHITE WAGTAIL, STARLING, and JACKDAW. Flew to Prague, Czech Republic, arriving in the late morning. It was overcast, threatening to rain, and about 70 F. Birds seen at the airport, or on the taxi ride into town included: EURASIAN KESTREL, COLLARED DOVE, WHITE WAGTAIL, MAGPIE, and JACKDAW. A walk around town was pretty bleak bird-wise, though absolutely beautiful with respect to the history, gorgeous architecture and overall ambiance (though I could do with less of the young Americans who wished it was 1970 as they played their acoustic guitars and sang Beatles songs ;-).
By 4 pm I was pretty hungry, so I trekked across town (from Old Town to New Town, across the river) to find a recommended restaurant. I mention this only because I got completely lost (incredibly easy to do in Prague), and ended up hiking up one of the wooded hills, just south of the castle, in hopes of seeing some birds as consolation for not being able to find the restaurant. I didn't have my binoculars with me, but I was still able to find BLACKBIRD, GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER* (Better View Desired (BVD) at that point), SWALLOW, and SWIFT* (also BVD). After coming down from the hill, I literally stumbled across the restaurant, and had an incredibly good and cheap dinner. Obvioulsy my side trip paid off, both in the bird department and the food department.
These next few days I was attending a conference, and then spent the last 2 days in Prague playing tourist, so I didn't really have much time to bird. Nonetheless, some of the common birds along the river included: MUTE SWAN (wild?), BLACK-HEADED GULL, and MALLARD. I also saw the following while in town: CORMORANT (flying up the river), TUFTED DUCK, (GREATER) SCAUP, POCHARD, SPARROWHAWK, BUZZARD, GREAT & BLUE TITS, and JAY. The bird that caught me most by surprise was the pair of MOORHENS climbing along some of the wooden pilings at the base of the Charles Bridge (a very busy pedestrian bridge in the heart of town).
I did manage to squeeze in a short "birding" trip on the 23rd, which consisted of a very easy ride out on one of the streetcars to the northwest side of town where there's a big park called Divoka Sarka. When I asked the receptionist at my hotel how to get to Sarka, she seemed quite surprised that I would want to go there. When I told her it was to look for birds she said, "You came all the way to Prague to look for birds?" I assured her that I wanted to see all sides of the city, including both the natural and manmade sides. And I was really glad I did, because I had a very nice time walking through this park. It's quite a big park, with sizeable rock cliffs, rushing streams, and paved trails through woodlands and fields. I spent a few hours there, and managed to only scratch the park's surface. Unfortunately it wasn't overrun with birds, but I still managed to find a few. Clearly the most common passerine was the GREAT TIT (with BLACKBIRD close behind), but fortunately there were often other birds hanging around with the tits, or just off by themselves. This included: GREEN WOODPECKER*, GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER (finally got good views), SWALLOW, YELLOW WAGTAIL* (BVD), LESSER WHITETHROAT*, WILLOW WARBLER*, CHIFFCHAFF, BLUE TIT, MARSH TIT*, WILLOW TIT*, NUTHATCH, JAY, MAGPIE, and JACKDAW.
There were a good number of CHIFFCHAFFs around, which were fortunately calling frequently. At the time, I thought each and every CHIFFCHAFF looked unique, as each one had some subtle difference from the one before it - whether it was the size and color of the supercilium, the amount of yellow in the breast and belly, the amount of brown in the back, etc. I couldn't tell if I was seeing gender, age or subspecific differences, though I think it was a little of each. I can't imagine how European birders deal with the whole warbler complex. Nonetheless, I could hear a difference in the call note between the CHIFFCHAFF and the WILLOW WARBLER, which was the only way I could feel confident I was seeing something besides CHIFFs.
There were a number of KESTRELS working the cliff faces and scaring the birds, which is how I found the LESSER WHITETHROAT. It flew into a willow, and then sat incredibly still, allowing for good views. It wasn't a very strongly marked bird in the face, but I identified it by the lack of an eyering and rufous wings, which are characteristics of a Whitethroat.
A fourway "game" between a KESTREL, a SPARROWHAWK, a MAGPIE and a JAY was enjoyable to watch, although I don't think the MAGPIE was enjoying it. The SPARROWHAWK kept going after the MAGPIE, while the KESTREL kept going after the SPARROWHAWK. The JAY flew right into the whole scene, as if it wanted to get in on some of the action, though the others split soon after that (the MAGPIE wanted out as quickly as possible).
The night of the 24th my friend (who had arrived in Prague on the 22nd) and I took the night train from Prague to Munich. We got to Munich at 6 am on the 25th, but not without incredible hassles on the train. To anyone not familiar with European trains, here's a hint: there's a difference between a reservation and a ticket (I didn't know this at the time). While I would have thought that requesting a double, first class sleeper to the ticket salesman in Prague would have been enough to get us everything we needed, it only got us the reservation. We didn't find out until 10 minutes before the train was to leave that we also needed tickets, and I spent 10 very frantic minutes running through the Prague train station trying to get tickets or money. Fortunately I was able to get some money (we had German marks, and U.S. dollars, but needed Czech crowns), and we were able to pay for the tickets on the train. While much of Prague is very tourist friendly, I think the train station has a long way to go. And yes, I know that this paragraph is not bird related, but it could be valuable information for someone traveling through the area.
Part 2, Germany and Italy, to follow (when I get a chance to write them up).
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