Friday, 7 October 2016

Birding around Gnadenwald, Absam and Innsbruck, Austria

Allan and I were invited by Swarovski Optik to visit their factory in Absam, Austria, staying at the Speckbacherhof in Gnadenwald (less than a 10 minute drive away) for a few days in early October. Arriving in Munich airport on the 2nd, the weather was unfortunately dreadful which made a long coach journey to Austria feel even longer, with very few birds spotted on the way. Arriving late afternoon a the hotel also didn't leave any time for birding on the day, so an early start was decided upon for the 3rd before the factory tour.

A short walk up the wooded mountains in front of the hotel from 6.30am didn't reveal too much, in fact Robin, Wren, Blackbird, Chiffchaff, Pied Wagtail and Chaffinch were just about the only species seen, until we made our way back to the hotel for breakfast. Sitting on top of the roof of the hotel was a Black Redstart, and the Sparrows we had heard on our arrival and thought nothing of turned out to be Tree Sparrows, rewarding our efforts on a cloudy, cold morning. The clouds began to fade as we made our way to the Swarovski Optik factory, the tour and discussions providing plenty of insight in to how these products are made. A short break mid afternoon gave us a chance to sample some of the binoculars and scopes, another Black Redstart on the eco-friendly 'living roof' providing a perfect opportunity to test the clarity of the optics. A Common Buzzard and a number of House Martins in front of the mountains tested the ability of the telescopes. Then out of the blue came a Nutcracker, a lifer for me, flying over our heads before shortly disappearing.

Tree Sparrow
Speckbacherhof

Arriving back at the hotel around half 4 gave us the opportunity in clearer weather to get out and explore the footpaths and hotel grounds a bit more. Half a dozen Tree Sparrows were easy to photograph, as were at least 3 Black Redstarts. Our walk took us a bit further than it had in the morning, but still only 10 minutes from the hotel, where we spotted and managed to photograph another Nutcracker. Activity increased all of a sudden as we realised we had stumbled across someone's bird (and squirrel) feeders. 20 minutes here revealed numerous Blue Tits, Great Tits, Coal Tits, Crested Tits, Goldcrest, Nuthatches, Greenfinches and Chaffinches. A very dark Red Squirrel also entertained us with its antics. Back at the hotel from the balcony we saw a pair of Ravens, many Carrion Crows, Mistle Thrushes, a fly over Siskin, Great Spotted and Green Woodpecker.

Nutcracker
Red Squirrel
Crested Tit
A nice spot for bird watching...
Black Redstarts
Black Redstart
Tree Sparrows

The next morning we prepared our suitcases to leave, though our coach didn't depart for Munich until early afternoon. Swarovski had planned a visit to Innsbruck and weather permitting, a trip up the Nordkette mountain range in a cable car. Visibility wasn't great but the trip went ahead, and as we made our way up it was difficult to see the cable more than 50 yards ahead. At 7,500ft up, it was also pretty cold, something we hadn't planned for. A glance of a corvid flying past the cable car as we departed gave us hope though, and shortly after making our way outside we spotted 2 Alpine Choughs, flying between the mountains. Like boyish fanatics, we struggled to get any good photographs, until around 30 birds picked up from what could only have been 30 yards to the left of us, flying directly over our heads! What a magical moment it was, a lifer for both of us, and we could only laugh after spending quarter of an hour hopelessly chasing one or two birds.

Alpine Chough
Alpine Chough
Allan at the top of the mountain


The weather deteriorated once more on the coach journey north, but somewhere roughly half way between Innsbruck and Munich we did spot around 10 Great White Egrets in a field, a nice way to end the trip.

Thank you to Swarovski Optik for inviting us and to the Speckbacher hotel for their hospitality.

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