Day 1, Saturday 19 November 2022 - Vienna
The day before, I flew in to meet Saskia who had a conference the previous days so we could enjoy a long weekend in Vienna and the Neusiedler See. I arrived at night so no avian highlights before I opened the windows the following morning. First birds to see were the feral pigeons and the first Hooded Crow perched on a chimney.
We headed into the city centre to get some breakfast. Hooded Crows were all around and in the first trees we came across some Blue Tits that were calling. We went from one christmas market to the other to make our way to the imperial palace and the equally impressive buildings of the library and museums.
In the afternoon we got away from the crowds as I wanted to see the second largest European river that runs through Vienna, the Donau. As we crossed the Augarten a flock of tits caught our attention. The flock consisted of Long-tailed, Blue and Great Tit but there were more birds in the flock including some Chaffinches, Nuthatch and an Eurasian Treecreeper. Here we also heard a Greater Spotted and Green Woodpecker.
A flock of Eurasian Teal were resting on the river. Beside the many Black-headed Gulls, some Common Gulls and a Caspian Gull patrolled the river.
Day 2, Sunday 20 November 2022 - Vienna & Apetlon
After breakfast we grabbed a cab to the airport to pick up our rental car. While waiting for the Uber the variety in the Hooded Crows became clear as this is a mixed zone where Hooded and Carrion Crows meet and mix.
The following days we stayed at Apetlon near the Neusiedler See, a 45 minute drive out of Vienna. The marshes along this big lake are very attractive to many birds and the “Puzta” (European Steppe) towards the Hungary border holds some very interesting species.
Before arriving at the accommodation, NaturGut (recommendable) the numbers of Buzzards, Kestrels and Hen Harriers surprised me. Thanks to the small agricultural fields with a lot of wild herbs it’s clearly teeming with mice. Sadly, the Siesels and European Hamster were hibernating.
After the check-in we first drove to the place I found on Maps, called the Vogelparadise. When we arrived a car in front of us opened the gate and we expected it to be a free entrance.
We checked out the lake where Curlew and Greenshank were present but nothing else of interest. When driving back to the gate it was locked. Luckily we saw the other people from before and we kindly explained the situation. The women let us out with a Austrian/German kindness (sarcastic)
We continued on the unpaved track to the view points (Aussichtsturm beim Graurinderstall). A handful of Hen Harriers were flying low over the fields, including two stunning males. From the reeds we heard some Reed Buntings calling and a large flock of about 2.000 Greater White-fronted Geese were present and a couple of hundred Greylag Goose.
From here we headed north using the unpaved roads. Along the way we came across many Roe Deer, flocks of Reed Buntings and Golden Plovers. When we arrived at the next lookout point (Weiße Esel, Sandeck - Illmitz) a Great Grey Shrike was showing well. Photos of the bird showed a lot of white on the outer tail feathers of which the outer two seem to be white, a large white patch on the wings and a distinct white line above the black mask, like these individuals.
Last stop was Seebad Illmitz, in the parking lot it was teeming with Collared Doves settling for the night. As soon as we walked up to the reeds we heard the distinct call of Bearded Reedlings. A Pygmy Cormorant took off as soon as we got to the marina.
While scanning the lake with a beautiful sunset a drake Goosander flew by followed by 3 (female-type) Pintails. An adult Yellow-legged Gull was preening itself on the small pier. We walked back to the marina where a Kingfisher flew by, scared by a female type Marsh Harrier flying low over the reeds.
More panic among the local doves was caused by a Merlin flying over at high speed just before it got dark.
Day 3 Monday 21 November 2022
I got out before breakfast to do some local birding. It was a grey, cold and misty morning. In a local pond at Apetlon a Green Sandpiper was foraging on the mudflat with a Great Egret next to it.
Leaving the village in the north east direction to check out lakes (Warmsee and Lange Lacke). The Warmsee was completely dried out and I took a right turn at the second unpaved road, leading to Reihersiedlung. One after the other Hen Harrier, Buzzard and Kestrel followed.
While checking a flock of 200 Fieldfares an immature White-tailed Eagle suddenly flew over the car! I continued the road till I reached Reihersiedlung where about 250 Greater White-fronted Geese were foraging on the corn leftovers.
As I forgot my phone so I wasn’t sure about my position and when seeing signals pointing towards Hungary I decided to follow the same way back.
The south east corner to the Hungarian border was on the planning for today where I hoped to see Imperial Eagle and Great Bustard, knowing it could be hard as all sightings I found were mainly done in the warmer months.
We drove towards Tadten and from there would take the secondary road south towards the Hungarian border to the Kommassantenwiesen Nature Reserve. Just after we drove out of the village a large bird of prey flew towards us. We quickly put the car aside and got out, when I put my camera on it the white patches on the shoulders and the yellow crown and neck made my heart beat faster, we had not even reached our destination and already we found an adult Imperial Eagle!
As the bird flew north we turned around hoping to relocate it on the other side of Tadten but sadly no sight of the bird. We did find a very nice Great Grey Shrike that caught a vole in the corn field, proudly showing us later from a birch tree.
We drove back and continued our way to Kommassantenwiesen, on the way we met with some local birders that were doing a raptor count and we exchanged sightings and information. Before we got to the observation platform (Nationalpark Aussichtsturm) a large bird of prey was soaring above the road that looked like a White-tailed Eagle. We drove up to it till it was directly above us but surprisingly it turned out to be a juvenile Imperial Eagle!
We could see all the details of his pretty plumage both upper and underside. It was gaining more height and glided away. From the observation platform we had a good view over the breeding area of Great Bustards but none of these were around as they feed on crops during the winter.
Still there were other interesting birds like another Great Grey Shrike, half a dozen Hen Harriers and a distant Rough-legged Buzzard. Next stop was the Hungarian border crossing bridge (Andaui híd) that was used by 180.000 Hungarians crossing the iron curtain after WWII.
We crossed the bridge to have been into Hungary and here I could add Yellowhammer and the first Syrian Woodpecker to the list. Many Mute Swans were present on the canal that forms the border where we saw another Kingfisher, Moorhens, Little Grebes and a Water Rail.
We took the Fluchstrasse heading to Andau, at the Vogel Aussichtsturm LIFE Great Bustard Andau we noticed another large bird of prey mobbed by a smaller one that turned out the be an adult Imperial Eagle mobbed by a male Hen Harrier with the partner Imperial Eagle nearby.
Half way a huge flock of Fieldfares (prob 500) came to drink at some pools on the road, joined by Goldfinches, Yellow Hammers and Tree Sparrows. This gathering attracted the attention of a juvenile male Goshawk trying to catch a thrush but without any success.
Just after we continued driving, three large birds in the field caught my attention. First impression was Greylag Geese but when I got them in the binocular it I saw a male and two female Great Bustards and when I scanned the field I counted 20 more! Just before Andau we stopped at a large mixed flock of 200 Yellowhammers, 100 Linnets and 100 Tree Sparrows.
These good sightings had to be celebrated with good coffee and cake before we headed to
Podersdorf Am See to look for Syrian Woodpeckers and aquatic birds.
We parked the car at Strandbad Podersdorf and walked up to the water. A flock of Greater White-fronted and Greylag Geese were on a sandbank as were some Black-headed, Common and two Caspian Gulls.
Then a Syrian Woodpecker started calling and we found a pair high up in the poplar trees. Luckily they came down in some willow trees from where we got some nice photos. In the small marine a Kingfisher showed well and some White Wagtails foraged on the mudflats.
The sun was getting lower and we headed back towards Illmitz. We stopped over at the watchtower “Aussichtswarte in der Hölle” from where we could observe 3 Cranes and over 1000 Rooks and Jackdaws feeding on the grapes.
While passing Illmitz I heard another Syrian Woodpecker and could observe it close above us in one of the gardens. The light was fading and I wanted to take some scenic photos of the shepherd hut and well (Schilfhütte mit Ziehbrunnen) on the road to Seebad Illmitz. While scanning the area a flock of 88 Cranes had gathered at the Zicklacke and 10 minutes later they flew off continuing their migration heading to the setting sun. A magnificent end to the productive day!
Day 4 Tuesday 22 November 2022
Another pre-breakfast drive around west of Illmitz provided more sightings of Pygmy Cormorants, Hen Harriers, Great Grey Shrike and some additional species to the list as Goldcrest, Magpie and Robin.
When checking out, the kind hostess asked if we enjoyed our stay and when we informed her about the bird sightings she tipped us about a Long-eared Owl roost at the cemetery. That was worth checking out and we counted 24 owls spread out over the conifer trees.
In the afternoon we had our flight so we planned to head back to Vienna checking out some places on the way. On maps I found an interesting pond at the end of the Golser Kanal. A cold walk along the footpath lookin out over the reed beds only resulted in five Marsh Harriers and some Reed Buntings.
When we got back a flock of about 25 white headed Long-tailed Tits passed by. When walking to the pond I could just put my binoculars on three ducks that turned out to be female Ferruginous Ducks before they and Mallards and Eurasian Teals flew off.
A hunter’s feeding station is clearly the cause of this skittish behaviour but this goes for the whole area where you find a hunter’s hut at every field. Surprisingly even at or along the wildlife reserves.
Harbours are always worth checking out so therefore our last stop at the Neusiedler See was at the marina of Weiden am See. On the boardwalk a group of six Pygmy Cormorants were drying their wings.
On the internet I found some sightings of Saker Falcons but all in the summer months. Still it was worth checking out the electricity mast which was favoured by the birds as a lookout point next to the A4 highway.
We planned to follow the electricity lines towards Panndorf so we could check out the other masts too. No falcon, only a hovering Great Grey Shrike till we arrived at Parndorf. We approached the tall mast from a dirt track leading from Parndorf, which can also be observed at a dirt road just before entering the A4.
A huge flock of 250 Collared Doves flew out of some pine trees and on the ploughed fields about 8 hares and a herd of 40 Roe Deer were present. When we got close to the mast I noticed a falcon and once I got it in the binocular I was surprised to see a Saker Falcon!
When we got out of the car we scared off a Roe Deer that ran to the mast and once it crossed the falcon flew off and after two rounds returned. Allowing us to take pictures both in flight and perched clearly showing its full crop. Again another perfect end of the day and one to wrap up this successful weekend trip.
I didn’t expect to see Imperial Eagles and Saker Falcon, which were lifers for me, and a low chance to find the wintering Great Bustards. In these four days I saw a total of 73 species of birds
There are a lot of low priced flights to Vienna (skyscanner) and so are the plenty of car rentals. There are plenty of accommodations (bookings.com) and restaurants (google) in the area to choose from. So if you plan a long weekend (with your partner) Vienna is a good option.