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Seewinkel Safari - Austria´s Birding Paradise


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Don´t worry this won´t be one of my usual 20 page+ monsters. And actually this was not a proper "safari" at all - no such thing in Austria. But we had such a good time at Lake Neusiedl last weekend (Wednesday to Saturday) and saw so much that I felt this deserved a little trip report of its own.


The Alps (where I live) have fantastic landscapes, and some interesting animals can be found but it´s quite a challenge, especially to get into photo range. The East of Austria is much lower, fewer then no more mountains, undulating hills, and then just open plains - this is the start, the Western tip of the "Puszta", the Hungarian steppe. And here is Lake Neusiedl, the largest endhoreic lake in Central Europe - and a paradise for birds and other animals, especially to the East of the lake, the so called "Seewinkel". The extensive reed areas of the lake and many shallow water bodies (some of them saline) attract thousands of birds, especially during migration times - like right now. Most birds fly around the Alps, they don´t like to cross mountains, and so their routes often lead them straight here. Many of them are just visitors, but there are also many breeding species. More than 350 bird species have been confirmed here, and so birders from near and far, all over Europe, travel here to rack up their species list or take photos of waders especially. It´s the only place in Austria where people don´t look at you very suspiciously if you walk around with binocs and a big lens which you point at bushes. :)


And it´s of course a very good place for my "Big Year" thread. :-) Which is also the place where most of my bird shots will be posted but here are a few for a start:


Northern Lapwing (look closely - actually two of them)




Common Kestrel












Western Yellow Wagtail




Long-Eared Owl




Wood Sandpiper








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Lovely series @@michael-ibk . The birds of this world have certainly got you fully hooked now. :)

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The Lake itself is not the real hotspot for photo-oriented visitors. Most species are there, actually in abundance, but this is part of the core zone of the National Park, and it´s not that easy to get close to birds there, and of course the reed is a perfect shelter and hiding place - not easy to see things.






But look closely, and you might always find nice little fellows like this Sedge Warbler




Or a Marsh Harrier on the hunt





One closed-off area here belongs to the Przewalski horses.



Edited by michael-ibk
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To the East of the lake there are many shallow water bodies, the so-called "Lacken".








This is where one can find - and can get reasonably close - to many species, including the much sought-after waders - like Black-Winged Stilts or Pied Avocets.



The most common bird however is without a doubt the Greylag Goose - thousands and thousands of them are all over the area, and right now many of them have goslings. You often see them even crossing the streets.












Other Chicks are stumbling their first steps in this world as well:




Some of the deeper ponds outside the preserved zones are used by fishermen a lot, and now Carps are spawning.



Edited by michael-ibk
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One of the most sought-after birds is not found near the water however - a bit farther to the Hungarian border there´s the "Hansag", a meadow zone, partly in a natural state, partly cultivated.






And everyone driving on this road has one specific target animal.




What is everybody looking for?




The Great Bustard, a huge bird, possibly the the heaviest living flying animal according to Wiki - the males can weigh up to 18 kg!




They are not very accomodating with their admirers and mostly keep away from the roads - still, even from a distance, a very cool bird to see! We even were lucky enough to see them in flight.









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Hares are very common in Seewinkel - especially in the Hansag they are literally everywhere, I soon gave up counting them during our morning there. So if you like lagomorphs this is definitely a good place for you.








Rabbits are also to be found, especially earlier in the morning.






Roe Deer are a pretty common sight.








One specialty is the "Ziesel", a European Ground Squirrel .




And always beautiful smaller stuff worth keeping an eye out for - like this European Fire-Bellied Toad:





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A part of the National Park is left more or less untouched, in a "wild" state - but not entirely. The Steppe would soon grow over with bushes if left alone, and many vulnerable species who need natural, short grass-plains areas would perish. The solution - cattle:


From spring to autumn these "Graurinder" have the perfect life - their job is to keep the grass nicely short in the core zone especially, and they can roam freely and are not bothered by anybody.


While some of the area is quite "pure" ...




... of course we are in Austria, and every parcel of land available is used for something though - wind power, arable farming, grass farming or viniculture.












But of course that does not scare birds away.






Some have even become quite iconic parts of villages - White Storks pairs have been nesting on houses for centuries.







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And then there is one very special treat to be found - one that changes Austria to Africa for a few hours.




Up there ...




What bird lives in places like this? Exactly, the ...






Bee-Eater! There´s a reason this species is called the European Bee-Eater, you know. :)


































We were very lucky to see them - they arrive around mid-May normally, and just three days prior to our visit (on Saturday) they had not yet returned to the colony. :)






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A bit of practical information:


Seewinkel is not far from Vienna, less than an hour by car, so also perfectly suitable for a daytrip. But you won´t get bored on longer stays (if you like birds at least a bit), we spent three days this time, and I could easily do more.


No entry fee, and you can drive to most of the waterbodies, though many paths (especially roundways) are only accessible on foot (or by bike) - which is a good thing of course. There are several hides and watchtowers, but for photos, often enough it seems the best way to get close to birds is from the car, especially at places like "Darscho" or the "Stinkerseen" (Smelly Lakes), the birds don´t seem to mind the cars all that much and only flee when you get out.


Illmitz and Apetlon are probably the best villages to stay in, all the hotspots are very close, and there´s a wide range of accomodations to choose from. Plunge Pool Haters look away now - we stayed at St. Martin´s, a Spa resort claiming to be a lodge. (And yes, we swam, used the sauna and even had massage! :)) They do offer some nature-based activities, and their staff are enthusiastic and competent.






The best advice I could give is the one true for every safari - get a good guide. And luckily, we had an excellent one. While most of the time we were out there on our own, we enjoyed two outings with Leander Khil, a fabulous photographer and very competent biologist who knows the Seewinkel inside out. He works part-time for St. Martin´s Lodge (where we stayed) as a guide, but is also freelancing. If you´re after some specific species, or simply want to know where the best places are at a specific time of the year there´s no doubt Leander is your man. A bird just needs to tweet just once deep in the reed, and he will know what it is. Leander arranges half- and full-day tours out of Vienna including pickup and drop-off.






Mini Trip Report over and out, lots of Seewinkel birds coming up in my Big Year thread next.



Edited by michael-ibk
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Wonderful pics....the bee-eaters were my favorites. I saw some in southern Turkey, but I always assumed that was the most north they might reach...had no idea they get all they way to Austria. Loved the variety you captured.

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So many birds and Przewalski horses too! Who knew? The European Bee Eaters were out in force. You put Seewinkel on the map, as far as this forum is concerned!

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@@michael-ibk, how interesting, surely "stinkerseen" can be re-named though? Will be checking out your big year now, with envy.

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What a fabulous place to visit- so close to your home as well. I really enjoyed the report and the photos. I love the hare photos as well as the birds.

I didn't know you got Bee-eaters in Austria - a real treat. Thank you also for the practical information.

The Big Year 2016 is certainly having an impact on your holidays! I look forward to seeing more of your photos in that thread.

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Perfect place, for a birder. Thanks for letting us, living closer, about it, @@michael-ibk . I've been looking after local bee-eater's nesting location, glad to hear they are back from Africa.

Maybe, next time you go there, a quick call beforehand ... ?

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Really interesting - lovely bee-eater pictures and I didn't know there were Przewalski horses in Austria!

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Thank you everybody! :)




Yes, one would not expect to see Bee-Eaters here, and I never have before. But according to my birdbook they occur even far more to the North, deep into Russia parallel to Scandinavia even. And apparently there are also very localized populations far more West, in France and Belgium or the Netherlands.


@@Atravelynn and @@Zim Girl


The Przewalskis are not "wild" - they have a (very spacious) enclosure encompassing many hectares.




Apparently the name is quite apt - when the "Stinkersee" dries out (as it regularly does) the algae rot in the sun, and I was told this is not a pleasant smell. :)




Actually it´s not that close - more than an six hour drive by car.




Yes, I think actually you live closer to Seewinkel than I do. Ok, I will show you the colony next time, and you will show me one in Slovenia - deal? :)

Edited by michael-ibk
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Lovely series, and your birdies look stunning and their Colours vivid in the photos. Lucky you - a natural safari right at your doorstep.


It occured to me that going on safaris in Africa helped us appreciate nature more, and as an extension, helps us treasure nature spots near home more rather than taking them for granted.

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Thank you! It does, absolutely. We all start out with the Elephants and lions, then start noticing and appreciating the "smaller stuff" more and more, see how interesting and fascinating everything can be - and then we find out that there´s lots of good stuff found so close to home, and even when not on safari you can always be out there enjoying nature - the best thing I have learned from all my Africa/India/SA trips!

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You will be taking reservations and offering guided tours to Seewinkel, right? If this was your promo to drum up business, it was a success.

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Peter Connan

Stunning place and magnificent photographs Michael!

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Perfect place, for a birder. Thanks for letting us, living closer, about it, @@michael-ibk . I've been looking after local bee-eater's nesting location, glad to hear they are back from Africa.

Maybe, next time you go there, a quick call beforehand ... ?

What do you mean a quick call? Isn't Michael opening a B&B and doing guided tours to the place?


In addition to the birds, the windmills are portrayed artistically.

Edited by Atravelynn
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He he he, I would certainly loved that ... but not very likely Michael will change his profession soon.

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  • 3 weeks later...



Wow, I am late to your report. I guess my excuse is largely the same as yours was for taking this trip in the first place. I've been enjoying the spring season here at home and observing the special wildlife that exists in my own area -- largely unappreciated until my "awakening" in Africa. (I've also been seeking cover for my overdue trip report!)


Thank you so much for sharing.

Edited by Alexander33
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