The return of Barn Swallows

Saturday and Sunday, March 29 and 30, 2014

Last decade of March is regularly the time when the first Barn Swallows reach Central Europe after the winter spent in Africa. We decided to arrange guided bike trip on Saturday and bird walk on Sunday. We had a very pleasant and sunny weather during both days. Let’s find out if we spotted Barn Swallows and what other great observations we had.

Our first guided bike trip of the season started in the shadow of the Most SNP bridge. Our target area was approximately 15 km away. We decided to visit Hrušovská zdrž water reservoir on the Danube below Bratislava, the most important wintering and migration stop-over site for waterbirds in Slovakia. We passed through the overgrowth of floodplain forests on a comfortable bikepath. We heard calls of European Serins (Serinus serinus), Common Chiffchafs (Phylloscopus collybita) and Green Woodpeckers (Picus viridis) along our way. As we were checking the position of other bikers that should have joined us my colleague Ján spotted a pair of Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica) sitting on the wire. We had good views of our first Barn Swallows in the season. We took few pictures and they flew away. What a great start to our bike trip! Our first longer stop was by the shallow parts of the river with plenty of dead trees in the water. Among several Gadwalls (Anas strepera), Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) and Garganeys (Anas querquedula) we found one male Common Merganser (Mergus merganser). As we reached the dam of the water reservoir we spotted flock of gulls. We thought that there are only Black-headed Gulls (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) but after a closer look we discovered a pair of Mediterranean Gulls (Ichthyaetus melanocephalus). Nice large black hood, striking red bill and lack of the black ends of the wings made us sure that we found these rare birds. This species breeds only in two areas of Slovakia, at Danube in the colony of Black-headed Gulls and near Piešťany, 70 km northeast from Bratislava. Later we added Red-crested Pochards (Netta rufina), last wintering guests Mew Gull (Larus canus) and Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula) to the list of observed species. After the refreshment stop we returned back to Bratislava shortly before 3 pm.

Sunday’s walk had its start in Čunovo. We wanted to visit some of the sites from the previous day to spot at least one more Barn Swallow. Just after a while we heard a very distinctive call of Middle Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos medius). Male woodpecker was perching in the treetop. We observed diving Little Grebes (Tachybaptus ruficollis) on the seepage canal between Čunovo and Hrušovská zdrž water reservoir. As we were approaching the Danube we spotted a pair of White Wagtails (Motacilla alba) hopping on the road. While I was explaining differences in non-breeding and courtship plumage of Great Cormorants (Phalacrocorax carbo) two grebes appeared to our left. They were bigger than Little Grebe and darker than Great Crested Grebe. To our joy we were looking at the pair of Black-necked Grebes (Podiceps nigricollis), occasional guests during the migration. We observed Garganeys and Gadwalls as the day before. Two Mediterranean Gulls sat on a dead tree in the distance, while few Tufted Ducks (Aythya fuligula), Common and Red-crested Pochards (Aythya ferina, Netta rufina) were swimming nearby. We had still no sign of Barn Swallows, but we had no lack of interesting observations. We recorded shy song of Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus), found few last year’s nests of Penduline Tits (Remiz pendulinus) and photographers enjoyed male Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) that was singing on the branch just 3-4 meters from us. We must not forget the rest of the animal kingdom. Beside the fallen trees nibbled by Beavers we observed European Oil Beetle (Meloe proscarabeus), Ground Beetle (Carabus cancellatus) and the Old World Swallowtail (Papilio machaon).

We observed Barn Swallows only on Saturday, but on the other hand we had nice observations of Mediterranean Gulls and Black-necked Grebes. We had a great weekend at the Danube lit in sunshine and good atmosphere. Our activities follow in high speed this spring. Next weekend will bring you another bike trip and a guided flower walk.

List of observed bird species:

Mute Swan (Cygnus olor)
Gadwall (Anas strepera)
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)
Garganey (Anas querquedula)
Red-crested Pochard (Netta rufina)
Common Pochard (Aythya ferina)
Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula)
Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula) only Saturday
Common Merganser (Mergus merganser) only Saturday
Common Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus)
Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis)
Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus)
Black-necked Grebe (Podiceps nigricollis) only Sunday
Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea)
Great Egret (Ardea alba / Egretta alba) only Sunday
Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo)
Western Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus) only Sunday
Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo)
Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) only Sunday
Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra) only Sunday
Northern Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) only Sunday
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus / Larus ridibundus)
Mediterranean Gull (Ichthyaetus melanocephalus)
Mew Gull (Larus canus) only Saturday
Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michahellis)
Feral Pigeon (Columba livia )
Common Wood Pigeon (Columba palumbus)
Eurasian Collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocto)
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos minor) only Saturday
Middle Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos medius)
Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major)
Black Woodpecker (Dryocopus martius) only Saturday
European Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis)
Eurasian Magpie (Pica pica)
Rook (Corvus frugilegus)
Hooded Crow (Corvus cornix)
Eurasian Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus / Parus caeruleus)
Great Tit (Parus major)
Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) only Saturday
Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus) only Sunday
Common Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita)
Eurasian Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla)
Eurasian Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes) only Sunday
Eurasian Nuthatch (Sitta europaea) only Sunday
Common Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)
Common Blackbird (Turdus merula)
Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos)
European Robin (Erithacus rubecula) only Sunday
Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros)
Eurasian Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus)
White Wagtail (Motacilla alba)
Common Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs)
European Greenfinch (Chloris chloris / Carduelis chloris)
European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) only Saturday
European Serin (Serinus serinus)
Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella)

Comments are closed.