Birding and Bird Photography Blog by Leander Khil

Kategorie: Sightings

A Calandra Lark in Seewinkel

While working on Lapwings in Seewinkel national park, I found a Calandra Lark (Melanocorypha calandra) on a gravel road, right beside a small Lapwing colony near Neufeldlacke.

The bird was singing gently from the ground, sometimes chasing away the Skylarks (Alauda arvensis) frequently flying by or entering its territory. Every few minutes it took off, ascending to around 20 m height from where it sang shortly as well. Then it landed on a nearby broken up field to feed for a few minutes, just to return to the singing post again. The bird repeated this procedure several times, when it suddenly took off around 8.40 a.m. and disappearedy to the south-west.
I turned my attention to the Lapwings again. After about half an hour, I heard a song from the sky above me – undoubtedly of a lark but unkown to me. Looking out of the car window, I saw the Calandra Lark again, just dropping in the pasture to my right where I watched it for another few minutes.

This is the 16th record of Calandra Lark for Austria if accepted by the AFK and the first one to be seen in March. Of the previous 15 records, 14 are from April to June and only one bird was discovered in the end of September. Following two records in 1966, it is the third record of the species from the Seewinkel region.

Yellow-billed Diver in Vienna

Gelbschnabeltaucher / Yellow-billed Diver


I hardly find the time to post here. But waiting for an airplane, this is an occasion.
Just twitched a second-year Yellow-billed Diver (Gavia adamsii) found by L. Timaeus at river Danube in Vienna. This already is the third record of this vagrant since 2009.
The bird is amazingly confident, diving surprising distances!

Seven records have been accepted from Austria by the AFK so far, another one (1 ind. at Attersee/Upper Austria, 28.-29.12.2012) still has to be reviewed.

That’s it, a quick sign of life before I leave for Iran.

Lesser Grey Shrike – another (nearly) Austrian breeding record

I didn’t post too much during this extremely hot and sunny summer, as I’ve been busy with: enjoying the time. Most of all working ornithologically, photographically and frisbee-related (which peaked in the win of the national championship with my team fwd>> against my former home team Catchup Graz in the finals; just to bring in some of the much-neglected frisbee-news).

Who wants to spend his time in front of the screen when there’s the most pleasant of central European seasons out there? I probably didn’t really reduce screen-time but spent it in front of other screens.. you can follow some blog posts here (from the wildlife tours I guide at Nationalpark Neusiedler See – Seewinkel; in German and written for a wider audience ). Currently I’m also finishing a spring review of bird observations in Seewinkel, which will contain photos from the last months and thus should be closing or shrinking the gap of photo posts.

Although there would have been tons of sightings and photo series to show here, I take a most recent and delightful one as the occasion to reappear in the blogosphere.

A quick blast from the past: Lesser Grey Shrike (Lanius minor) used to be a regular breeding species in eastern Austria up to the second half of the 20th century. After a rapid decline and the extinction of the species across its range in Austria, from 1981 only a tiny population remained in the Seewinkel/Burgenland (Dvorak et al. 1993). Besides this, breeding of single pairs was still recorded in Steiermark in the early 1990s (Samwald & Samwald 1993, Sackl & Samwald 1997). The last pair of the remaining population in Seewinkel disappeared in 2002.
In the 20 years of 1991-2011, the Austrian Avifaunistic Committee has accepted 29 records, all from May and June (Steiermark: 10, Burgenland: 7, Niederösterreich: 5, Oberösterreich: 3, Vorarlberg: 3, Kärnten: 1) – excluding the few breeding records and observations from Seewinkel up to 2007 (; Laber & Ranner 1997; Ranner et al. 1995; Ranner 2002; 2003; Ranner & Khil 2009; Ranner & Khil 2011).

In 2012, besides two records from May, the species bred in Austria again, for the first time after its 10-year temporary extincition in 2002. A pair reared six juveniles at Graurinderkoppel in Seewinkel, an 800 hectare enclosure grazed by about 400 Hungarian Grey Cattle (

The awaited return of the breeding pair or its offspring to Graurinderkoppel did not happen in 2013. Despite six single observations of Lesser Grey Shrikes in the Seewinkel area in May and June 2012, also in the 2012 territory, no breeding pair could be located.

When no one would have expected it anymore, the good news came out on August 8. A pair of Lesser Grey Shrikes had bred in the border area to Hungary (with the nest apparently being not in Austria by a few metres). I visited the family with its four fledged chicks and took some images.

weiterlesen… »

Observations from the Seewinkel (Winter 2012/13)

I put together a compilation of bird observations and photos from the Seewinkel region in the winter of 2012/13 (in german) for my employer. You can download it here.

Come on. Snow?

In Austria, the winter of 2012/13 has been the one with the least sunshine of all time. After some sunny days during the last two weeks, people were starting to hope again for spring to arrive. There’s no reason to hope. Today, according to ORF, we experienced  one of the coldest spring days in eastern Austria – ever. With new snow, even in the dry, easternmost parts of the country.

I’m currently putting together a review of my winter observations in the top birdwatching-area Neusiedler See – Seewinkel.
For now, you’ll find just some of today’s images of birds in the snow – including some obviously disappointed long-distance migrants which now face a serious problem.

Back to North Frisia: Föhr

After an eventul time in North Africa, I settled down in Europe again (in full posession of my optical and photography equipment!). Not back home in Austria, but in the German Wadden Sea (again after 2010) – a fascinating region of outstanding importance for millions of birds.
This time, I’m on the calm island of Föhr, the second largest of the German islands in the North Sea. I’m working for Schutzstation Wattenmeer, monitoring breeding and migrating birds, geese and daytime migration as part of a survey on an on-shore wind power project on the island.
Spring is slowly returning also here in the Wadden Sea, with swallows, Willow Warblers and Bluethroats arriving from the winter quarters. Many wintering species, such as Rough-legged Buzzard and Redwing are still present on the island and the migration of species breeding in the arctic such as Brent Goose (among them also a few of the Greenlandic subspecies hrota), Bar-tailed Godwit, Dunlin and Red Knot is in full swing – with thousands of birds coming to high tide roosts.
I’m out in the field most of the time and currently, there’s not much time left for photography and even less for editing etc. So, just a quick selection of images taken during my first week here.

Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse in Egypt

Edit: Much better photos by J. Geburzi from today, added to the gallery below.

While working in Egypt with german colleagues, we (M. Boetzel, J. Geburzi, M. Trobitz, C. Weinrich, M. Werner, T. Zegula and me) made an exciting find in Minya Governorate, Egypt.
When searching for Crowned Sandgrouse (Pterocles coronatus) on March 18, which has previously been seen in the area by M. Trobitz, we had a flyby-observation of four small, dark-bellied sandgrouse with elongated tail, which we couldn’t readily identify. When consulting literature back at home, it became clear that all features seen (long tail, sandy-brown wing with black primaries and secondaries, white trailing edge, no obvious contrast between dark underwing and dark belly, short, guttural calls ‘kwritt-kwritt-kwritt’) clearly pointed towards Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse (Pterocles exustus), a species thought to be extinct in Egypt and rarely recorded within the western palearctic. A quick research revealed that these birds should belong to the egyptian subspecies Pterocles exustus floweri (Nicoll 1921), which is listed as “extinct” by some sources 1 2. In the 20th century, the subspecies appeared to be “fairly numerous in Upper Egypt and the Faiyum” 3, the species was last recorded in Egypt in 1979 (I. Moldovan in litt.).
We unsuccessfully tried to relocate the birds the same evening and in the following days. Due to work, we only had time to search in late afternoon/evening. It took some days until we could go back to the spot in early afternoon, the time of day when we first saw the birds in question.

On March 21, we finally found ca. 25 Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse near the spot where we first saw the flying four. We got perfect views of some birds flying over our heads, sometimes as close as 30 m. If you haven’t experienced it yet: It’s a terrible feeling to find a major rarity, not being able to take proper photos. My whole photography equipment is still confiscated at Cairo airport, which is why I had to work with my Canon S90 compact camera. Have you ever tried to photograph elusive sandgrouse in flight, with a focal length of 105 mm, a terribly slow autofocus and a shutter lag of 0.5 s? I had to – it’s a nightmare. Under this circumstances, I’m quite happy with the few record shots, showing most of the important features. Additional field marks noted in the individuals seen at closer range (males?) were a fine, black band on the breast, white trailing-edge to black primaries, dark brown underwings, not contrasting to dark brown belly but contrasting to buffy-yellowish undertail, breast and head.

The birds, mostly flying in small groups of up to seven individuals (max. ca. 25 in one flock), frequented cultivated and abandoned sandy fields in a varied, cultivated landscape with stony hills, sandy plains, water holes, areas with sand dunes, fields and gardens.

  1. – downloaded on March 22, 2012
  2. – downloaded on March 22, 2012
  3. Nicoll, M. J. (1919): Handlist of the Birds of Egypt, Cairo, Government Press

Northern Bald Ibis: The rarest bird I’ve ever seen

Watching Northern Bald Ibis (Geronticus eremita) is a must for any birdwatcher visiting Morocco. Only two small populations of this species, listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN 1, remain in the wild. Little more than 100 breeding pairs live in western Morocco 2 and only a handful of birds have been rediscovered in Syria 3 in 2002.
To protect the breeding birds, the exact locations of the colonies in Morocco are kept secret to the public. However, birds can be watched well at feeding sites in the Souss-Massa National Park or at the mouth of river Tamri, north of Agadir.
I visited the latter on my recent trip to Morocco with A. & M. Tiefenbach. We found the birds straightaway, about 40 adults and immatures, resting at the shore of the small estuary, formed by the river flowing into the sea. For the well-being of the birds, we didn’t approach, but waited for them to approach us, flying up to the sandy slopes in the afternoon, where they regularely feed and from where we were watching. We spent a half day there, watching and photographing the rarest bird we had ever seen – not an easy task! Although the birds seemed familiar with people watching them, it was hard to follow the restless flocks, constantly walking through the bush-covered sand-dunes, rarely giving good, direct views. The ibises fed on insects like large bugs, which they were tearing out of the sand. More on the conservation of Bald Ibis in Morocco:
Absorbed in these precious observations, we started to think about where to sleep only when it was already dark – and decided to set up our tent near the village of Tamri. Not be best decision, as it turned out that two guys tried to get into our car for hours, while we were sleeping just beside it. We finally woke up (and chased them away) by their noises and touches, when they apparently tried to find the key of the car inside our tent. Creepy…


Ruhiger Winter

Wohl dank der warmen Temperaturen und dem Fehlen von Schnee im Flachland ist es zu verdanken, dass sich der laufende Winter ornithologisch recht unspektakulär gestaltet. Ein paar Aufnahmen sind dennoch dazugekommen.
Interessante Beobachtungen in Graz umfassten den zum zweiten mal überwinternden Wanderfalken, der seit 4.10. nahezu täglich vor meiner Wohnung jagt und zwei Wasseramseln.
An den vielen Wasserflächen im Leibnitzer Feld war der bisherige Winter gerade zu unspektakulär. Keine Seetaucher, keine Meeresenten, keine Zwergscharben und erst mit dem Kälteeinbruch Ende Dezember/Anfang Jänner die ersten nennenswerten Ententrupps entlang der Mur. Am Stausee Gralla hält sich aber seit Mitte Dezember eine diesjährige, wohl wilde Blässgans unter den fütterbaren Haus- und Stockenten auf. Die extreme Zutraulichkeit ließ es zuerst zwar schwer fallen, an die wilde Herkunft des Tiers zu glauben. Die in den ersten Tagen aber nur zögerlichen und unbeholfenen Versuche, das Brot zu fressen, auf das sich das andere Geflügel stürzt, sowie der tadellose Zustand des Gefieders, Flugfähigkeit und das Fehlen eines Rings sprechen aber für einen Wildvogel.

Ebenso in Gralla verweilte einige Tage lang eine fast adulte, beringte Mittelmeermöwe. Mir war das Tier nur fliegend auf kurze Distanz vergönnt, S. Zinko und A. Tiefenbach konnten durch Ablesen des Rings aber bestätigen, dass es sich dabei um den ersten beringten Jungvogel (geschlüpft 2008) des Grazer Brutpaars handelt! Das ist die erste Beobachtung von einem der Jungvögel seit dem Verlassen des Brutplatzes. Der Vogel verschwand gegen Ende Dezember, wer weiß, vielleicht ist er schon die 30km nach Norden geflogen um Teil der Grazer “Kolonie” zu werden. Seine Eltern, die einzigen, in der Steiermark brütenden Möwen, mussten heuer ihren Brutplatz innerhalb der Grazer Innenstadt verlegen, da das ursprünglich genutzte Hausdach durch eine Renovierung “unbewohnbar” wurde.
Am neu gewählten Brutplatz wurde das Nest leider bald zerstört und es kam zu keiner Brut – die Zukunft der Grazer Möwen ist also ungewiss, ich bin gespannt auf die kommende Brutsaison.
Auch diesen Winter treibt sich im Leibnitzer Feld wieder eine Hand voll Moorenten-Verwandter herum. Bis jetzt konnte ich aber erst eine reine Moorente sehen (Tillmitsch 15.12. 1 W), während die Hybriden mit Tafelenten heuer noch auffälliger geworden sind. Das Männchen in Gralla überwintert bereits zum dritten Mal. An den Schottergruben der Schwarzl-Teiche konnte ich am 5.1. mit S. Zinko und M. Weißensteiner sogar drei (2 M, 1 W) solcher Hybriden feststellen.
Weitere Einzelbeobachtungen: 1 ad. Seeadler am 19.12. an der Grenzmur, 1 M Kolbenente am 5.1. an den Schwarzl-Teichen.

Beringte Schwalbenmöwe in Wien!

Lang vor dem Morgengrauen des 14.12. machte ich mich mit Andi Tiefenbach und einer Flasche Kaffee auf nach Wien, wo C. Roland am Vortag eine Schwalbenmöwe (Xema sabini) entdeckt hatte. Es handelt sich dabei um den erst fünften Nachweis dieser vorwiegend im arktischen Nordamerika beheimateten Art in Österreich (Ranner & Khil 2011), wobei der vierte ebenfalls heuer erfolgte und noch nicht von der AFK behandelt wurde.

Der edle Gast übernachtete am 13.12. stilsicher in der Wiener Hauptkläranlage auf der Simmeringer Haide, wo wir ihn bei unserer Ankunft aber erwartungsgemäß nicht auffinden konnten – der Großteil der Möwen war bereits in der Dämmerung vom Schlafplatz abgeflogen. Schwalbenmöwen überwintern auf hoher See im Atlantik und Pazifik, weshalb wir unsere Suche auf die größte Wasserfläche in direkter Nähe, den Strom der Donau, konzentrierten. Kontrollen der wenigen Möwen-Trupps an der Alberner Schotterbank und im Stauraum des Kraftwerks Freudenau waren erfolglos, die Möwen aber in ständiger Bewegung. Gegen Mittag erreichte uns die Meldung von W. Trimmel, der die Möwe an der kurz zuvor kontrollierten Schotterbank flussaufwärts abfliegen gesehen hatte. Fünf Minuten später musterten wir erneut erfolglos die Möwen in Freudenau durch. Wir waren uns aber bewusst, dass der scheinbar sehr mobilen Schwalbenmöwe die geradezu endlose Fließstrecke der Donau zu Verfügung stand und die Chancen sie hier zu finden ungewiss, jedenfalls nicht zu überschätzen waren. Deshalb verließen wir uns darauf, den Vogel später unter den einfliegenden Möwen am Schlafplatz zu entdecken.

Schwalbenmöwe / Sabines Gull | Wien-Simmering, 14.12.2011

Schwalbenmöwe / Sabine's Gull | Wien-Simmering, 14.12.2011

Dort nahmen wir die Suche gegen 15:00 Uhr wieder auf, die Zeichen standen aber schlecht. Die erlaubte Besuchszeit am Gelände der Kläranlage war auf eine Stunde begrenzt, es war aber erst ein winziger Bruchteil der Möwen eingeflogen, jede Sekunde wurden es mehr. Wir nutzten die wertvolle Zeit und checkten die Lachmöwen in den Klärbecken, bis die Ferngläser glühten. Zehn Minuten vor Ablaufen der gewährten Beobachtungszeit waren wir kurz davor, enttäuscht zu resignieren. Ich meinte zu Andi noch, dass es das wohl gewesen war, wir den Vogel unglücklich um ein paar Minuten verpasst hatten. Mein nächster Blick fiel wieder auf die etwa 50 Möwen, die im Klärbecken direkt neben meinem Wagen, etwa 5-10 Meter entfernt schwammen und begeistert in den Fäkalien herumpickten. Da war sie. Mein Puls stieg in Bereiche jenseits von gut und böse und ich war zu einer maximal mittelmäßigen Lage-Beschreibung für Andi fähig, der die Möwe aber glücklicherweise trotz meines Gestammels finden konnte. W. Trimmel und M. Staufer auf der anderen Seite des Beckens wurden verständigt und ein paar Belegfotos (leider unter widrigsten Lichtverhältnissen) angefertigt. Bald erreichte der bewegliche Rechen des Klärbeckens die Stelle und die Möwen flogen auf. Pünktlich als die Stunde um war konnten wir so doch noch zufrieden die “größte Kläranlage Europas” verlassen.
Wie sich am Abend herausstellte, ist der Vogel stahlberingt! Eine Ringablesung einer nearktischen Möwe in Österreich wäre sensationell und man darf sich wohl darauf verlassen, dass die Wiener “ring-reader”-Gemeinde alles daran setzen wird, den Code zu knacken.
Herzlicher Dank gilt an dieser Stelle den Zuständigen der EBSwien Hauptkläranlage, die ein Beobachten am Betriebsgelände ermöglichten!

Die weiteren Beobachtungen dieses Tages umfassten u.a. vier Samtenten im Staubereich des Kraftwerks Freudenau.

Ranner, A. & L. Khil (2011): Nachweise seltener und bemerkenswerter Vogelarten in Österreich 2007-2009. Sechster Bericht der Avifaunistischen Kommission von BirdLife Österreich. Egretta 52: 13-32.

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