Austria, 10-11 June 2006

Lately, herp-hunting has been reduced to weekend trips. This trip was a family reunion in Viena where I got a weekend off and visited two national parks in the east of Austria, Donau Auen National park and Neusiedler See National park. The result was not that good but this description gives an example of what can be found this area.

Danube, © Per Blomberg
Danube, © Per Blomberg

In Donau Auen National Park I started at the centre in Orth. The information centre is situated in an old castle on the north side of the Danube and the national park. The park stretches along the Danube from Vienna to the Slovakian border, a distance of about 50 km. The width of the park differs between some hundred meters to a kilometre or so. This is a unique habitat with some of the last remnants of natural flooded forests along a big river in Europe. Of course the area is influenced by man but yearly flooding still changes the riverbanks and finds new ways for side arms of the river. Here you have the opportunity to find the Danube Crested Newt (Triturus dobrogicus) which lives in ponds along the river. I spent some hours looking for it but was not successful. I heard a lot of water frogs that sounded much as the Edible Frog (Pelophylax kl. esculentus) we have at home in south Sweden. In a small temporary pond I heard a lot of Fire-bellied Toads (Bombina bombina). They are on the limit of there distribution and in the rest of the country the Yellow-bellied Toad (Bombina variegata) dominates. I also hoped to find the Italian Crested Newt (Triturus carniflex) on its northern limit but did not do so. The river had recently flooded the area and in the morning there was some rain so the situation was quite good for salamanders and newts but I had no success. In a small temporary pond I saw a lot of Spadefoot Toad (Pelobates fuscus) larvae, about 50-70 mm in length. I also saw a Grass Snake (Natrix natrix) in the same pond. The third species of interest for me was the Aesculapian Snake (Zamenis longissimus) which I have not seen before. Not this time either. Here can also be found the European Pond Terrapin (Emys orbicularis) which probably has been reintroduced (Arnold 2003). The site is in easy reach from Vienna and can be reached by buss or by bike on the nice biking trails along the riverbanks.

Danube, © Per Blomberg
Larvae of Pelobates fuscus, © Per Blomberg

In the afternoon I drove for about one hour down to Neu Siedler See National Park. I started with the information centre in Illmitz where I also found a nice bed and breakfast (almost every house has one). At the centre they where selling a very nice and thick atlas of the herpetofauna of Austria but the price of 72 euro made me resist to buy it. The landscape in this area is fascinating with the big lake in the west and open flat grassland interrupted with wetlands and cultivated land. The central European steppe starts here and continues into Hungary, the close neighbour in the east. Half the national park lies in Hungary. The area offers some excellent bird watching opportunities but also a nice flora and exotic animals as hamster and suslik. I had just two species here, the Green Toad (Epidalea viridis) and Sand Lizard (Lacerta agilis). With more time several other species could have been found as for example Green Lizard (Lacerta viridis), Pool Frog (Pelophylax lessonae), Marsch Frog (Pelophylax ridibundus), Agile Frog (Rana dalmatina), Common Tree Frog (Hyla arborea), Dice Snake (Natrix tessellata), Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca) and the Adder (Vipera berus). It seems like Orsini´s viper has been seen in the area but I do not know how long ago.

Rust, © Per Blomberg Neusiedler See, © Per Blomberg
Neusiedler See, © Per Blomberg Neusiedler See, © Per Blomberg

The area is very well served for biking but not as good for parking and walking. I had a humiliating evening at a restaurant with a big screen showing how the Swedish national soccer team just managed 0-0 against Trinidad and Tobago. The second day I spent some time in the beautiful town of Rust on the west side of the lake. The town is famous for a huge number of storks nesting on the roofs and chimneys. The drive up to the airport just took an hour and a late flight made it possible to stay bird watching until five a clock and reach Kastrup airport in Denmark at 21.30

Neusiedler See, © Per Blomberg Neusiedler See, © Per Blomberg

12/6 2006 / Per Blomberg

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