Thursday, June 20, 2013

Will spring arrive?

On my first day after leaving Berlin, I met a Japanese cycle tourist also heading for Poland. An artist by profession, he had been cycling for 15 years and was planning on parking his bike for good in October this year. After admiring the simplicity of his cycling rig, I was again reminded that one does not need the latest gear to cycle tour, but just the desire to get out there and do it!

Japanese touring cyclist south of Berlin, heading for Poland to meet with a friend.

I pushed hard to get through the south-west corner of Poland in two days. While it did not snow again, there was enough left on the ground to make it look like mid-winter. The landscape certainly looked more intimidating than it had in Germany, and was also more hilly. There was no end to the snow when I entered Czech Republic, and I was beginning to wonder if spring would actually arrive. But then it all changed rather rapidly. Within the same morning, the snow-coated landscape slowly dissolved into one boasting fields with new green growth. By the time I reached Zábřeh, snow had become something of the past. It was also here that I was fortunate to meet Petr. Petr was on his way back to the local table tennis championships when he noticed me gleaning an information board for directions. A quick cup of tea at his house ended up in us playing a game of table tennis – a completely unexpected turn of events! Petr kindly hosted me for the night, while his friends generously served us dinner at their home. Although Petr is handicapped, he has cycled over 20 000 kilometres across Europe, including countries such as Spain, Turkey, Italy, France, Croatia and Greece to name a few. He was a real inspiration and I hope his plans to cycle Scandinavia materialise soon… 

Little birding was done as I pushed through Poland, hoping for spring to arrive.

Making friends in Czech Republic, with Petr on the right.

Soon after departing from Zábřeh, I got my first Little Ringed Plover on an open field, followed by a pair of Garganey in the company of Mallards. The occasional woodland that I passed had drumming Great Spotted Woodpeckers; an impressive sound made by pecking rapidly at resonating wood. There was no shortage of good birds as I passed from Czech Republic to Slovakia, with Linnet, Crested Lark, Black Redstart, Marsh Harrier, Great Crested Grebe, Green Woodpecker and Eurasian Serin making an appearance. I was pleased with my first Great Grey shrike, Hawfinch and Middle-spotted Woodpecker as I approached the impressive floodplain of the Morava River in western Slovakia. It was also great getting views of species which I had not had the pleasure of seeing for a while, such as Grey-headed Woodpecker, Reed Bunting, Dunnock, Marsh Tit and Stonechat. While the floodplain seemed relatively quiet at the time, I got glimpses of large flocks of waterfowl occupying the inaccessible stretches of water; the area obviously has huge potential given more time. 

Little Ringed Plover in Czech Republic; with diagnostic yellow eye-ring and black beak.

The mornings were frosty in Czech Republic, but new growth was evidence of spring!

I reluctantly left the Morava River floodplain and pushed on through to the city of Bratislava, from where I would make my entry into Hungary. My first day in Hungary was rather uneventful, but it did lead to a one-day detour into Austria to explore the Neusiedlersee and surrounding wetlands. I passed the lowest point in Austria, and appreciated the fact that it was a lot less work getting there by bike as opposed to the highest point in the country! 

The lowest point in Austria; easy to reach by bike!

The wetlands held a good diversity of waterfowl, with species such as Mallard, Gadwal, Common Pochard, Northern Shoveler, and Red-crested Pochard being common. Twice I had a small group of Ferruginous Duck fly overhead, but the views were not satisfactory enough to add the species to my life list. I tried for Moustached Warblers in the extensive reedbeds surrounding the Neusiedlersee, but had no luck. I figured it was perhaps still too early, as even common warblers were not around. I was amazed at the number of Marsh Harriers patrolling the reedbeds; at one point I could see 11 different individuals gliding over the reedbeds across a stretch of only a few kilometres! 

The striking Red-crested Pochard, seen here at a shallow wetland near Neusiedlersee.

Taking the ferry ride across the Neusiedlersee, Austria.

A Common Gull trailing the ferry ride across the Neusiedlersee.

Back in Hungary, I got my first Syrian Woodpecker in the town of Sarród, while the wetlands at Fertőújlak delivered great views of Black-tailed Godwit, Black-winged Stilt, Ruff, Common Shelduck, Gadwal, Pied Avocet, Whimbrel, Common Greenshank, Snipe and Little Egret. Good numbers of Yellow Wagtails, including an individual of the Feldegg race with the neat black hood, foraged the grassland at the edge of the waters. My first Common Nightingale made its presence known by waking me up one morning – this species would become so common that I don’t think another day passed when I did not hear it! My last lifer in Hungary was a very obliging Corn Bunting, while my first Montagu’s Harrier for the trip showed itself shortly before I reached the border with Slovenia, a country where I really started birding at leisure.  

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