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21 October 2004

By Stephen Burch

Another business trip, this time to Vienna gave me the chance to visit the famous Vienna Woods, albeit at not the best time of year. All the summer passerines would be long gone, but the resident woodpeckers included potentially 3 lifers for me, as despite many birding trips to Europe, I had never connected with a non British woodpecker!

Despite considerable searching, I was unable to turn up much information about the Vienna Woods from the birding point of view, especially for an autumn visit. There is an entry in John Gooders book "Where to Watch Birds in Europe", which briefly mentions both the Schonbrunn Palace and Lainzer Tiergarten. There seemed to be very little in trip reports on the web, so this account may be of help to others.

General notes
Vienna is of course full of hotels in all price ranges, and mine, the Drei Kronen, was a fairly basic 3 star place, some 20-30mins walk from the City centre. Not specially recommended. It did however have convenient access to the U4 underground line, from which both the Schonbrunn Palace and the Lainzer Tiergarten could be reached relatively easily. So, for once, there was no need for a hire car, for this one day of birding.

At Vienna airport, I was able to pick up a very useful 1:25,000 map of Vienna - from freytag & berndt. I hope they dont mind the scanned-in extracts below!

Sites & Narrative

Schonbrunn Palace Grounds

Map of Schonbrunn Palace Grounds. Click to enlargeI visited this site first. The brilliant weather of the day before had unfortunately been replaced by grey, misty conditions with a little rain - not inspiring. From the Schonbrunn U4 underground station, the entrance at the north east corner of the Palace grounds is very close, and gives free access.

The first bird I spotted was a woodpecker feeding on the lawns, but it turned out to be just a Green, not Grey-headed. Following the sparse directions from the Gooders book, I then headed for the pond at the end of the broad "driveway" which leads south west from the Palace building. From here I searched the wooded area up the slope to the left - location 1 on the map of the Schonbrunn Palace grounds opposite, which I reckon must be the area Gooders refers to.

In this general area, there were plenty of common woodland birds, such as Nuthatch, Jay, Great Spotted Woodpecker and remarkably tame Great Tits, but no sign of anything rarer. Also lots of Red Squirrels in their black winter coats. The grounds beyond the Gloriette building at the top of the hill appeared closed to the general public. The open area was remarkably limited in size - it is difficult to believe it is large enough to hold many woodpeckers.

Lainzer Tiergarten

Map of part of the Lainzer Tiergarten. Click to enlargeThis is a huge area of mature woodland, with hills, valleys and a few lakes - much more extensive than the Schonbrunn. The map shows the region I visited at the north east corner, nearest to the U4 underground station Hutteldorf (U4 symbol at right edge of map). From here the Nikolaitor entrance (red 1 on the map) to the Lainzer is a 10-15 min walk. Note that there is no public vehicular access into this area - you have to walk! You go through an imposing black gate to get in (opening times vary between 9am in autumn/winter and 8am in summer).

By the time I got here, the weather had improved - even a little sun, and the cloud shrouding the hills was begining to disperse.

Just past the childrens play area, the track forks (not shown on map - I think they converge again a bit further on). I initially took the right fork, indicated by a pig sign (I soon found what this meant - the place is crawling with tame Wild Boar!). Shortly up the slope, I latched on to several Hawfinch in the surrounding trees (approx red 2 on map). There were also some more further on (red 3 on map) in the tops of trees in a clearing. This seemed more promising, so I pressed on along the path which took me up a steep slope, spotting various common woodpeckers - plenty of Great Spotted and one Green.

At around map symbol 4, I stopped for some lunch. A movement to my left caused me to raise my bins, and I was suprised to see not a Jay on the ground, but a remarkably large woodpecker bill, with the rest of the bird hidden behind a tree. Then a brilliant crimson crest appeared, and then a black head, so I knew I had a definite BLACK WOODPECKER - a much wanted lifer - in view! Unfortunately I never saw the complete bird, as it disappeared when I moved to try to see more of it!

I then headed right along a muddy vague track which descended beside a stream, eventually reaching the vicinity of a small lake (map symbol 5). This had an obliging flock of c. 10-15 Mandarin - again a surprise. The return track back to the entrance was windy and virtually birdless. With some time to spare, I had another look at the trees near the entrance which had earlier produced Hawfinch. Attracted by much bird calling (mainly Nuthatch), I scrambled up a slope and sat to down to see what might appear. Very soon I was rewarded with excellent views of a MIDDLE SPOTTED WOODPECKER (another lifer) - around map symbol 3 (follow the left hand track beyond the childrens play area, follow it round a right corner, and then up the steep slope on the left). Also a day flying bat!

So even in a brief 2-3 hour visit this impressive area turned up some real goodies. A longer visit in Spring might well be really productive, with chances of Grey-headed Woodpecker, Collared and Red-breasted Flycatcher. Maybe some other time...

All pictures copyright Stephen Burch

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