A Citril Finch Day in Dorbatsch Naturpark near Villach, Austria

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The Citril Finch has been one of the potential life birds for me which occurs not too far from my home. Dorbatsch Naturpark can be reached by a nice 6 hours drive from Tata. I was advised to visit the area by kind Austrian birdwatchers. We arrived there in the dark. When we reached the major car park at the end of the road it was still dark outside. We decided to have a rest in the car but soon the first Ring Ouzels started to sing and their song slowly filled the whole area.

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Beautiful misty morning in the Alps. © Gyorgy Szimuly

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Unknown flowers decorated the alpine fields. © Gyorgy Szimuly

The sunrise reached us on the trail up to the peak of Tumplwald. It was simply magical. Birds were singing everywhere and lights were just glorious. At the car park we should have seen the so called ‘easy to find’ Citril Finch but there was no sign to any bird. We decided to move up towards the summit and return back later. Along the trail we saw several feeding Ring Ouzels, Coal Tits, singing Water Pipits, Northern Wheatears, Willow Tits, lots of Common Chaffinch, a Common Kestrel and Dunnocks.

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Scenery was awesome from the park. © Gyorgy Szimuly

We did not target to move up to the peak and returned to the car park slowly. At the edge of a pine forest we heard and saw three fighting Black Grouses at their lek. It was a great surprise for the kids. We could enjoy the view for minutes. Lights were just ok for watching the details of their shiny feathers through the excellent Swarovski 10×42 SwaroVision.

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Battling Black Grouses. © Gyorgy Szimuly

On our way back to the car park about 20 Alpine Choughs were descending to the valley. They were very tame and started to feed just meters away from us. It was a life time experience for the boys again. I had only a Nikon CoolPix V1 with me so only some record shot were taken.

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Alpine Choughs were very cooperative while feeding. I was sorry not to have a pro photo gear with me. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Finally we gave up looking for the Citril Finch from the main car park and moved down to the next car park. After having a nice breakfast there I spotted a finch with apparent wing bars and light yellowish green rump. Sadly Dani could not see it well as it moved away soon. In a few minutes another (or the same?) bird appeared providing a way better view but Dani missed to see its details again. He saw it but not through the optics. As he is not so keen birder yet, we decided to move down from the mountain and visit a Cinereous Vulture and Western Bonelli’s Warbler site in north west Italy. It was not so far from the Dorbatsch Naturpark. In the car park we saw a beautiful European Crested Tit feeding in the bushes.

On our way down to the valley we stopped at an incredible view point. The construction was hanging over the precipice and was exactly above the nesting place of Alpine Swifts. It was a lifer for the kids but honestly they were stunned by the feeling the viewpoint provided better than enjoying a lifer. Standing over the nothingness is really cool… Other birds seen was a nice Spotted Nutcracker and some Red Crossbills.

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A view to the Julia Alps from the special viewpoint. © Gyorgy Szimuly

The rare superciliaris subspecies of Western Yellow Wagtail was found

This evening I made a short trip to a nearby gravel pit where nice number of shorebir species bred last year. The water level is lower than last year resulting more islands for breeding. I was surprised by the number of Pied Avocets and Black-winged Stilts which apparently started to breed.

The most interesting record for this evening was a rare subspecies of the Western Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava superciliaris). When I entered the area I picked a black headed yellow wagtail with an obvious white supercilium. It was feeding along the shoreline with a few males of nominate race Motacilla flava flava ssp. I could relocate it for a few times. I have some experience with this subspecies from the Danube Delta and Dobrogea in Romania. However, the International Ornithologists’ Union taxonomic list does not recognise this subspecies and it should be conspecific with the Motacilla flava feldegg subspecies (range: the Balkans and Turkey to Iran and Afghanistan) which has no such obvious white supercilium while other features are alike.

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Superciliaris ssp. of Western Yellow Wagtail from the Dobrogea, Romania. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Shorebird numbers recorded at the pit:

Pied Avocet 17
Black-winged Stilt 16
Little Ringed Plover 4
Common Redshank 2
Wood Sandpiper 5
Common Tern 27

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Sand Martins (Riparia riparia) have already started to occupy nest holes. © Gyorgy Szimuly

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A few images of the gravel pit. © Gyorgy Szimuly

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A Little Ringed Plover nest with eggs was found right next to the entry point. © Gyorgy Szimuly

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Nice evening clouds at the gravel pit. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Raptor watch for conservation purpose

Close to my home there is a mountain, called Gerecse, which is our raptor watching site. This also a ‘hotspot’ for watching nice variety of birds of prey. Every year our raptor expert organises a series of raptor watching day when we not only target to see migrating raptors but locating sensitive species from conservation point of view. One of these species is the majestic Eastern Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca) which was first reported breeding in 1904. Annual reporting and monitoring of the species is carried out the local branch of BirdLife Hungary with the coordination of Péter Csonka, our local expert, since 1993. Between 1993 and 2003 the Eastern Imperial Eagle was breeding in the mountain (better to say in the hills) but from 2004 it was moving out from the hills to lowland. This year the pair probably moved further north as they were not seen at the earlier breeding sites. The purpose of today’s raptor watching day was to find the Imperial Eagle moving around our watching spot and if possible locating the nest. There were three other observation points but ours was the northest one which provided the largest area to be surveyed (distance of visibility was more than 10kms).

The weather forecast was quite nice and ideal for watching birds in the sky. I had some very good fellow birders with me for better coverage of the vast area. The Eastern Imperial Eagle was spotted quite early and we could follow its movement by spotting scope. After this observation we could find it two more times but it landed in three different alley or forest which did not helped us securely locate the territory. In the meantime another bird was spotted a few kms of us to southeast but the timing of our observation was overlaping with that one so that definitely was a different bird. More watching days is needed from our spot to locate more accurate the pair’s nest if it exists at all.

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Common Buzzard has been the most abundant raptor species in the region. One individual was hunting from the wineyard fences. Image was taken by a Nikon CoolPix V1 camera. © Gyorgy Szimuly

This is our modest list of birds of prey seen today:

European Honey Buzzard 3
White-tailed Eagle 1 ad.
Eurasian Sparrowhawk 1
Northern Goshawk 1 male
Common Buzzard 15
Eastern Imperial Eagle 1
Common Kestrel 1
Eurasian Hobby 1
Peregrine Falcon 1
Northern Raven 17 

Yes, this is apparently not the same list what Corpus Christi in south Texas, Batumi in the Caucasus or the Gibraltar can offer during migration, but we did enjoyed this day a lot despite we got quite a serious sunburn by the end of the day as no protection cream was with us.

Other nice birds were seen around (total of 51 species):

White Stork 1
European Bee-eater 13
Common Swift 6
Wood Lark 3

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Some more images of the day. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Special thanks to Peter Csonka for providing the historical summary of the local status of the Eastern Imperial Eagle. Thanks to Gellért Bátky and Levente Pribéli for participating in the survey. We all had a great day with fun.