Beaver under water

Surprisingly, I  never managed to see a  Eurasian beaver (Castor fiber) at daytime in Vienna - until recently. Since Europe's largest rodent was reintroduced in the 1970s, it spread to most of the city's waters again. The series of photos, taken from a bridge, shows an individual crossing a large stretch of water, diving below the ice cover to meet another individual.

St. Martins Wall Calendar 2017

St. Martins Therme & Lodge published a wall calendar with my photos again this year. It features some of the lodge's animals as well as wild species from the Neusiedler See - Seewinkel national park. The calendar is available exclusively at the lodge.

A Long-tailed Skua at Lake Neusiedl

I recently had the opportunity to take a look at a Long-tailed Skua (Sterocarius longicaudus, Falkenraubmöwe) in Illmitz, at the eastern shore of Lake Neusiedl. I didn't connect with this arctic breeding bird since twelve years in Austria, so I was exceptionally glad to see it hunting and resting up very close. In fact, the bird didn't bother birdwatchers and passers-by at all, resting just besides the footpath. Even though it hunted very effectively (skuas are parasitic and snatch prey from gulls and terns), it made an exhausted impression when on the ground.
Long-tailed Skua is a rare visitor to Austria, with single records every year, mostly of juveniles. This bird is in its third calendar-year, so close to adult plumage.

Gleinalm, Steiermark

I'm currently working in a raptor migration survey in the alps of the Austrian state of Steiermark. The first five-day census took place last week to monitor the expected peak of Honey Buzzard (Pernis apivorus) migration. I recorded nine species of raptors, two Dotterels (Charadrius morinellus) and around a dozen of Honey Buzzards from my lookout on Mt. Speikkogel (1988 m. a. s. l.) in the Gleinalm area.

A test on those legs

With a lot of luck and the generosity of a friend, I got my hands on a Nikkor AF-S f4/600mm. I tried it this evening, attached to a Nikon D810, on some Black-winged Stilts in the Neusiedler See - Seewinkel national park. Not too easy to handle (it's so heavy!) and especially tough in low light, since it lacks a vibration reduction, but still - I'm very happy!

Reminder: Babies crossing

Überfahrenes Kiebitzküken / Overrun lapwing chick, Seewinkel, May 2016

Dieses traurige Bild hielt ich kürzlich im Seewinkel fest. Die Kiebitz-Mutter stand noch rufend neben dem frisch zerdrückten Küken auf der Straße, als ich mich der Szene näherte. Wie viele andere Paare brütete auch dieses in einem Acker. Zu Beginn der Brutsaison finden Kiebitze auf Ackerflächen oft gute Bedingungen vor und legen dort ihre Nester an. Das rasche Wachstum der Kulturen ändert die Qualität dieses Lebensraumes für die Kiebitze aber schnell. Sie finden in den dichten Pflanzenbeständen keine Nahrung und fühlen sich nicht wohl. An offene Habitate angepasst, verlassen die Vögel mit ihren frisch geschlüpften Jungtieren die Äcker, wo meist übergangslos Verkehrsflächen angrenzen.

Seewinkel in April

Just a few photos from the past month in the Seewinkel.

Europäische Highlights: Neusiedler See und Seewinkel

The April issue of "Der Falke - Journal für Vogelbeobachter" features an article I wrote about birding in the Neusiedler See - Seewinkel region. You can read it here.

Exhibition: Die Paradiesvögel des Szabolcs Kókay

Invitation/Einladung to the opening of the exhibition The birds of paradise by Szabolcs Kókay in the Naturmuseum Neuberg, Neuberg an der Mürz on 1 May 2016, 16:30h.
The exhibition can then be visited daily until 26 October (10-12h / 14-16h). It focuses on the paintings the artist finished after an expedition to the see these magnificent birds himself and on the plates that he created for the book "Birds of New Guinea".

Back in the fog

Some more images of abundant species at Zicksee, after the fog got thicker and thicker.

Another magic evening in the Seewinkel

A colder period ended today with the arrival of warmer air from the south. Dense ground fog developed in the evening. Fog + setting sun = terrific lighting.
Nothing too special birdwise, except for a flock of Skylarks, which could - very optimistically - be rated as a slight first sign of spring?

Season's greetings

Landender Engel / Angel landing, Lachmöwe / Black-headed Gull (Larus ridibundus) | Salzburg, December 2015

Finally, a bittern

I recently connected with a rather showy (and late in the year!) Bittern (Botaurus stellaris) in Seewinkel. Far from perfect, but surprisingly my very best photos of this species - you have to take what you can get. The set was taken before sunrise, so I was once again in a high ISO dilemma and - torn - pushed it up to ISO 1250..

The Seewinkel in Bird Watching Magazine

A short article on birding holidays at St. Martins Lodge in the Seewinkel region appeared in the November issue of Bird Watching magazine (UK).

The new St. Martins wall calendar 2016

Coming soon: The new St. Martins Therme & Lodge wall calendar 2016, featuring 13 of my images of both wildlife and typical farm animals of the Seewinkel region. The cover photo was the latest addition to the final selection, taken at sunrise, just two weeks ago on the lodge's pastures. It features the Austrian White Donkeys Freddy, Franz and Heck. This rare, cream-coloured and blue-eyed breed was kept as a decorative pet, mostly in the 17th and 18th centuries within the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy.
The calendar is available in a week or so, exclusively at St. Martins.

Something different: Austrian-Hungarian white donkeys

Even though birding has been great in the Seewinkel in recent days, I uploaded some shots of totally different subjects: Austrian-Hungarian white donkeys ("Baroque donkeys"). This old, blue-eyed breed was kept as a pet more than a working animal in the Baroque and Rococo periods in Hungary and Austria. Today, it is a highly endangered variety that's still being bred in the Neusiedler See - Seewinkel national park, where it's also used as a grazer within the park's habitat management.
The St. Martins Spa & Lodge also keeps four of the White Donkeys, which I visited for a sunrise photoshoot recently. One image of the series is supposed to decorate the front cover of the 2016 St. Martins wall calendar.

Alpine mist-netting on Hochwechsel

As part of the search for sites in the Austrian alps, that could be suitable for long-term bird migration studies through bird ringing, Tobias Schernhammer and me explored Hochwechsel (1743m a.s.l.) in the past eight days. This mountain pass is part of the easternmost ridge of the alps and has to be crossed by lots of migrating birds on their way south-west.

Unfortunately, we experienced very unfavorable weather conditions for mist-netting, with lots of rain, heavy winds and temperatures below 0°C. Still, the few (half) days we could open up our 300m long mist-netting setup and one night session proved the mountain to be a true migration hotspot with roughly 300 birds ringed (180 Robins between 23:30h and 3:30h in the night of 9./10. Oct). The main species ringed were Robin, Water Pipit, Meadow Pipit and Black Redstart. Other trapped species included Redwing, Mistle Thrush, Song Thrush, Black Grouse, Goldcrest, Common Redstart, Chiffchaff, Coal Tit, Nuthatch, Siskin and Chaffinch.

Daytime migration across the ridge in the few dry hours included up to 15 Red-throated Pipits, Hen Harriers, Marsh Harrier, Common Kestrels, Peregrine Falcon, Merlin, Ring Ouzels, Common Buzzards, Sparrowhawks, Nutcrackers and lots of passerines (pipits and finches).


Thanks for their valuable support go to Vroni and Matthias of Wetterkoglerhaus, C. Nagl, F. Bittermann, E. Guariento, K. Bürger and M. Milchram and all the others who wanted to help but couldn't because of the weather-realted, earlier end of the project.

Juvenile Whiskered Terns

After a spring with exceptionally high water levels in the temporary salt lakes of the Seewinkel, some bird species in the national park were breeding in very good or even record numbers (e.g. Little Grebe, Black-necked Grebe, Black-winged Stilt etc.). The huge breeding success is now particularly visible in the Whiskered Tern (Chlidonias hybrida), which started to breed in the region (and Austria) only in 2009 with then around 40 breeding pairs (Dvorak et al. 2010, Egretta 51; 51-59). Around 300 pairs were counted breeding in 2015 (B. Wendelin & M. Dvorak in lit.; exact number yet to be figured out) and their noisey and often confiding offspring can now be seen in many places, when birdwatching in the Neusiedler See - Seewinkel area. The youngsters already fly and hunt on their own, but do still beg their parents for food.
The photos below were taken some days ago, minutes before the first heavy rain for weeks, which marked the sudden but long-awaited end of a searing heatwave here in eastern Austria with daytime temperatures constantly above 33°C.

An old acquaintance: Gralla's intersex Mallard

"intersex" mallard
Stockente / Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) | "intersex", Gralla, 10.8.2015

While late summer is a great season for birding, with fall migration in full swing (17 species of shorebirds today in Seewinkel!) and plenty of topics one could write about, I just want to report shortly about an encounter I had yesterday, when birding around my hometown Graz.
At the famous birdwatching (and duck-feeding site) in Gralla, along river Mur, I found a bird that I'm irregularly observing since nine years now. I wrote about this and similar birds in the area already here (in German) and posted photos of this exact bird here, here and here.
So called "intersex" Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) are females, which develop male (plumage) features as they're getting older or when having a troubled hormonal balance. The reasons for this are not fully understood. While it seems that there hasn't been any new research on this topic, a quick google search revealed some new things dealing with intersex birds and plenty of new photos on the net. Look here.

This time, I couldn't take perfect images of the bird, but the first ones I got at a time of the year, when the bird should be in eclipse plumage, like all the other mallards around. Surprisingly, it was already much further advanced than the others, with a largely green head etc.

In the course of the years, the bird developed a more and more perfect male plumage, but with the eclipse feathers on belly, flanks, scapulars and head, it's hard to judge if there has been any advance now. Some female-like spots in the rectrices remain, but the tail curls are already perfectly masculine!

"intersex" mallard
Stockente / Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) | "intersex", Gralla, 10.8.2015
"intersex" mallard
Stockente / Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) | "intersex", same bird as above (checked by bill pattern) in fresh breeding plumage, Gralla, 21.12.2008

Some impressions of a heatwave week in Seewinkel

33 birdwatchers from Ireland just enjoyed a very hot, sunny and successful birding week in eastern Austria and adjacent parts in Hungary and Slovakia - what a lovely group!
Top observations on the 140+ species list included Eastern Imperial Eagle, Moustached Warbler (singing from the top of the reeds for several minutes!), Great Bustard, Syrian Woodpeckers, Bee-eaters and Hoopoes at their nesting sites, Squacco Heron, Tawny Pipit, Barred Warbler, a breeding record of Fieldfare (worth mentioning for the locals only) and much more. See some snapshot impressions below. Thanks to Niall and Steve for their valuable help in finding birds and the nice company, hope to see you soon in Ireland!