I was not expecting to do much birding during our short tour of two weeks in Eastern Europe but, as always, I was constantly on the lookout for bird life and was rewarded with five new birds (“lifers”) during our tour, which consisted of four days in Prague, an eight-day cruise of the Danube with stops in four countries, and a short stay in Passau, Germany.
The best birding was while relaxing in our cabin, sliding door open to the fresh air and binos and camera at the ready as the boat cruised at a steady pace along the Danube. The only problem with this was the limited field of vision and the speed of the boat, which meant I had a very short time to react if I saw anything and I mostly had to rely on photographs for an ID of the bird species. The Danube at times widens out into a lake-size body of water, so any birds along the banks tended to be quite far away and it proved difficult to get a decent photo.
The photos showcased here represent the best shots I could get under the circumstances.
The best way of seeing a new city is to walk the streets and parks, which we did during our stay in this handsome city. European cities are not known for their variety of birds and Prague was no exception, with Jackdaws, Magpies and Blackbirds being the most common birds.
One city park had a Eurasian Jay which was a new species for me
One fine day we took the funicular to the top of the hill which overlooks the city and walked through the extensive parkland and forests of Petrin Park. Here we came across a Common Chiffchaff and on the walk down saw Wood Pigeons. A Eurasian Green Woodpecker drew our attention with its call but did not hang around long enough for a photo.
We took a day trip to this historic town a couple of hours bus ride from Prague. With time to spare after the walking tour of the town, we found a pleasant riverside café for coffee which also turned out to be a good spot for viewing some birds as they came to the river. Apart from the ubiquitous Blackbirds, we found Grey and Pied Wagtails on the banks of the strongly flowing Elbe River (both eluded my camera) and a few Black Redstarts, one of which looked remarkably similar to the Familiar Chat we know from SA.
A selection of the birds we spotted while cruising :
Mute Swans were seen frequently
A single sighting of Mandarin Duck was a surprise and a new species for me
Grey Herons were seen regularly
Great Cormorants in the protected area
Goosanders were another regular sighting but always at a distance
Caspian Gull in the protected area
Our extended stop at Vienna allowed for a walk along the riverside, which was good for a few land-based species
While moored in Linz, Common Martins and Barn Swallows suddenly appeared in numbers over the river. I surmised that they had just returned from their annual African summer safari and were revelling in being back “home”, judging by the enthusiastic way they were swooping over the river, despite the bitterly cold weather
This delightful town was a highlight of our trip (more about it in a later post). The birding was limited but a Lesser Kestrel flying high above the Castle was an interesting sighting
Other than that the ubiquitous Mallard Duck was the only water bird of note
I had downloaded Collins Bird Guide for Europe prior to the trip – it has a useful bird listing function which I used to list the species we encountered. At the end of the two weeks I had a grand total of just 33 species – par for the course in Europe when the focus is not on birding.
I regularly see that many species in an hour, walking around our neighbourhood in SA – I’m just saying.
2 thoughts on “Eastern Europe – a Bit of Birding”
The photo you have from the Danube Cruise between the Caspian Gull and the Great tit shows a Common Chaffinch, not a House Sparrow.
Daniel, thanks for pointing that out – I have corrected it.
I remember wondering about it at the time.
At least now I have a reasonable photo of Chaffinch which is very difficult to locate in SA – just occurs in a small area of Cape Town, brought originally to the country from Europe by one of the early settlers