Monday, July 11, 2011

Czech out these birds!

What?  Two trips to Europe in as many months?

Yes, it’s a tough life. 

A Society of Wetland Scientists conference brought me to Prague, Czech Republic where I told the top wetland scientists from 47 countries about how successful the stream restoration in the SWAMP has been for bird communities.   
 Check out my poster (give it a click)!

Now Prague is a city better known for castles than birds…
Great Spotted Woodpecker
…though Eastern Europe is a popular spot for British twitchers to visit in search of woodpeckers. 

I had some time for sightseeing over the weekend and after a heavy dose of Gothic architecture and Baroque art, I stole away to some of Prague’s many large and densely wooded parks.   

Great Spotted Woodpeckers were common and rather friendly. But this species is also a British resident (where I had seen it before).  Other woodpeckers proved to be far more timid and elusive.  I was able to spot a Green Woodpecker and a Middle Spotted Woodpecker (both lifers!), but missed out on Lesser Spotted and Gray-headed. 

Eurasian Treecreepers
Treecreepers, clinging vertically to tree trunks yet not woodpeckers, were all over the place (Eurasian ones were at least, though I was able to identify a couple Short-toed) giving me another couple life ticks.  

Also common and clinging, but not woodpeckers were Nuthatches.  I had been happy to see my first two in Croatia.  In the Czech Republic nearly every patch of forest seemed to be crawling with them. 

Other exciting new birds:

Crested Tit – a cute conifer specialist and my 10th tit species (including Long-tailed and three North American varieties)
Black Redstart

Black Redstart - Common, but cute and not at all like North American redstarts. 

Goldcrest - the European version of our Golden-crowned Kinglet

Common Cuckoo - A bird I had heard in Croatia, but never before seen.

We had a break from presentations to have a day of field trips.  I joined an excursion down to some wetlands near the town of Trebon.  The whole area was named a biosphere by UNESCO and has both ancient man-made fish ponds as well as pristine bogs.  Bird Life International also named it an Important Bird Area, so I had high expectations.

Unfortunately, this was far from a birding tour and we were visiting places not particularly suited for bird observation at the wrong time of year.  Red Bog, a wetland containing remnant boreal vegetation left over from the ice age, was promising.  But it was afternoon by the time we arrived and there was little bird activity.  

I was thrilled to catch a White-tailed Eagle flying over.  This is a rare breeding species I had hoped, but not expected, to see.   
Phyloscopus sp. (Wood Warbler?)
Better still was a Greenish Warbler on an exposed twig. This species’ range (according to my field guide) does not even extend into the region, but apparently it persists in this one bog alone where the anomalous ecosystem makes for appropriate habitat.   I got great looks at one actively foraging, but Phyloscpus warblers are essentially impossible to identify by sight for the uninitiated (i.e. me).  There are just too many confusion species, such as Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and Wood Warbler.  I perhaps saw all these others as well, but my Wood Warbler candidate was mute and even my decent pictures were inconclusive.  

Fortunately two or three Greenish Warblers were singing and I was able to match their songs with the recording on my phone.   There were three other birders on this trip, but they were far ahead on the path and never got to see what would have been a life bird for them.  

White Stork was another target for me on this trip.  I was happy to get to see two poking around in a field from the bus, but sad not to see any nesting on a chimney top, a habit for which the species is so famous.  

Black Stork and Purple Heron were my two most disappointing misses.  

Nonetheless, 15 life birds in a non-birding week in central Europe is pretty darn good and I'm already up to 1527 life birds with the recent milestone fading fast in the rear view mirror.  
Blackcap - one of Europe's more colorful Warblers
After my two recent trips to Europe, I can't say I'm all that impressed with the continent's mainland Avifauna.  To be fair, I haven't visited Spain nor any other real birding destinations, nor been out with guides.  And I am horribly spoiled by South America.  But even compared to the densely populated and equally temperate Eastern United States, European birds, with a few exceptions, just seem to be shyer, drabber and less abundant.

Eurasian Jay - One of my favorite European birds and it isn't as pretty as a North American Blue Jay
I have no data to back this up and it's just an impression, but I wonder if there aren't any evolutionary or cultural/historical phenomena that could explain this. 


  1. Hi Scott,

    Nice to read this post! You should come to Southern Europe whenever you got the chance... it was nice to meet you, good luck with your PhD!



  2. Thanks Albert!

    I wish I could say it was nice to read your blog, but it is beyond my linguistic abilities. It sure looks slick though!

    I've been wanting to go to Spain for a long time... I sure hope I can get a chance to go soon.