Shorebird counting on the east Austrian soda pans

Since there is no suitable habitat for waders around my home I decided to visit the beautiful soda pans of Zeewinkel in eastern Austria. The small pan-system is just a few kms away from the Hungarian/Austrian border. As I had to go to Vienna late in the night, this idea seemed to be plausible. I watched birds with my best friend, Balázs Molnár and we had fun there.

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Balázs is counting Northern Lapwings.

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Me, as counting shorebirds at the Neusiedler See. © Balázs Molnár

On the one hand I was happy to make some birdwatching on traditionally good shorebird sites but on the other hand I was a bit disappointed by the number of birds counted. The conditions on all the visited pans were close to perfect for waders, despite the ongoing noise disturbance what came from the very close viticultures. Anyway there were several hundreds of shorebirds around the salty ponds which I could rarely see on my local sites.

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Common Ringed Plover. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Our first stop was at large soda pan, the Oberer Stinkersee, where three species were dominant. Just under 100 Pied Avocets and <80 Northern Lapwings and 50 Spotted Sandpipers and were counted. From the shallow pan we stopped at Zicklacke near Illmitz. This pan traditionally holds a very good number of birds but this afternoon it was rather quiet. My biggest negative surprise was the almost complete lack of Calidris sandpipers. The only representative was, spotted by Balázs, a juvenile Red Knot which is a very good bird for the continental Europe. Black-tailed Godwits were absent completely. Out of the few Kentish, Little Ringed and Common Ringed Plovers, Northern Lapwing and Spotted Sandpiper produced larger numbers.

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We could count shorebirds in beautiful afternoon lights at the Zicklacke.

A short section of the eastern shoreline of the Neusiedler See just south of Podersdorf am See is a nice place to check for roosting birds. The open water is closed by a wide reedbed providing a calm place for the moulting birds at the shore. The area is fenced and strictly protected. Among the very few shorebirds I spotted a juvenile Pygmy Cormorant. There were 10 Pied Avocets, a Common Snipe, 2 Common Greenshanks, several Spotted Redshanks, Wood Sandpipers and Common Ringed Plovers as well as >50 Northern Lapwings.

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Dunlin. © Gyorgy Szimuly

When we arrived to the western observation tower of the Lange Lacke, near Apetlon, two birders from Vienna were counting birds. As the tower was too small for 4 people we tried look around from the ground but asked for additional information about the shorebird numbers. An adult Caspian Tern were seen (not by me) in the middle of the lake. Eurasian Curlews (>25) were calling continuously making a special atmosphere around. Other birds of interests: 160 Pied Avocets roosting, >10 Common Ringed Plovers, 3 Kentish Plovers, >20 Little Ringed Plovers, 2 Little Stints, 40 Dunlins and a few other species like Common Shelduck.

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The view from the Lange Lacke to the Alps half an hour before sunset.

Guys talked about a Pectoral Sandpiper and two more Red Knots found on a close small pan which we hesitated to visit as the sun was about to set. We finally decided to rush there giving it a chance to find this rarity. When we arrived the sun marvellously painted the pan gold. Small sandpipers and lots of plovers were seen in drastically decreasing lights. I felt the need of a modern fluorite optics, although the Apo-Leica didn’t perform bad at all. We could not find the Pectoral Sandpiper but I found a Broad-billed Sandpiper which is also a cool species. The only Common Redshank was also heard only from this pan. Other birds of interest were some Temminck’s Stints, Kentish Plovers, Ruffs, Spotted Redshanks, >60 Curlew Sandpiper, 20 Dunlins, a few Little Stints, Wood and Common Sandpipers, <50 Pied Avocets, 25 Northern Lapwings, and 30 Little Ringed Plovers. The last try at the opposite side of the pan was in almost complete darkness. I actually could not ID the birds then we gave up.

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The silhouette of Schneeberg (the first larger mountain in the Austrian Alps) in the very last lights from the Zeewinkel.

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