The Joys of Urban Birding in SE Europe
Even before I turn the engine off, I hear the frog-like song of the Great Reed-Warblers. In a cold morning after a rainy night, some 200 Barn Swallows are hawking for insects low over the pond, while almost a thousand newly-arrived Sand Martins (Bank Swallows) are doing the same higher, above the tree tops. A Common Cuckoo is singing from the reeds, while another rufous morph female flies from one bank to another. Squacco Herons are back, too. Spring is finally here.
I am at my favourite local patch, the Reva Pond, on the outskirts – but still inside the city of Belgrade. Oh, the joys of urban birding… Add half a dozen Ferruginous Ducks (cover photo), two Whiskered and 40 Black Terns to the previous picture, plus an eagle, an immature White-tailed Eagle. At first, two large gulls are chasing it, then a pair of Common Ravens that have their nest nearby take over the bullying of a young bird. One Eurasian Sparrowhawk disappears into the tree crowns. From time to time, I hear the reeling srrrrrrrrr of the Savi’s Warbler.
Driving slowly along the sandy track towards the dyke separating this area from the Danube backwaters, a largish marten-like animal runs across the track. Almost the size of a hare, it is more clumsily jumping, than running… and that tail… it is the European Otter! Since that first sighting of two animals in this area, this is my fifth or sixth sighting and there are at least that many sightings by other birders.
The dyke brings the nest of Mute Swans, a dozen Garganeys, two Black Storks soaring above the willows, Green Sandpipers on a floating log, singing Common (Greater) Whitethroats and an eagle… the White-tailed Eagle again, but a different individual, an adult this time. A man walking his two small dogs is passing by the eagle, looking down at grass and not seeing the largest raptor in Europe. The eagle seems well used to people and pays no attention.
On my way back I will see a third eagle above the pond, intermediate in age between those two, perhaps in its 4th or 5th calendar year, most likely a subadult… with a yellow wing tag at its right wing! Everything happened too quickly and I couldn’t read the wing tag before the bird landed inside poplars and disturbed a small murder of Hooded Crows.
About to leave the dirt road, I notice a large sign announcing the beginning of construction works here, planned from April to September! Basically, disturbing the site and the birds, nesting eagles and otters, and at some stage putting it off-limits for visits – in spring, the best season at this hotspot! Oh, the joys of urban birding… Still, the plan is to pave the road and construct sewage ponds between the pond and the dyke, and in the long run, it may even increase the ornithological attractiveness of my favourite local patch. Fingers crossed.