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The Brat Patch - Birding in Bratislava

by The Urban Birder, David Lindo

Urban birding is not a new phenomenon as there have been urban birders as long as there have been towns and cities. Initially, observations were made through bird collecting and hunting with, for example, sites like Brent Reservoir in north London being rich urban hunting grounds especially for duck and other game. Thankfully those days are long behind us – the guns replaced with binoculars.

What people tend not to do a great deal though is go birding in cities whilst visiting abroad. I spend a lot of time in cities like Los Angeles with my work. As free time is often short to visit somewhere ‘decent’ I have to opt for local birding. Finding a patch abroad can be a very exciting prospect as there is often no information available as to the species likely to be encountered, so you truly become a pioneer.

Bratislava
The river Danube and wooded margins offer interest to the visiting birder

Recently, I had an invitation to spend a long weekend in Bratislava from a Slovakian friend of mine. I didn’t need much persuasion. A quick internet search however resulted in zilch information on the birding sites within the city, let alone the birds. I was on my own!  Well, in the worst case scenario would have been a great chance to immerse myself in Slovakian culture, marvel at splendid architecture and laugh at drunken Brits on their stag nights!

Nonetheless, knowing that Slovakia is generally a great birding location and excited by the prospect of some potentially interesting urban birding, I jumped on a plane arriving in heat soaked Bratislava a few hours later. After checking in at my hotel smack bang in the middle of the gorgeous Old Town and yards from the mighty Danube, I picked up a map and started making plans.

I discovered that on the cheap, car rental sponsored, street map that the hotel were good enough to provide me with there were areas of ‘green’ on the other side of the river. So, the following morning I rose at sunrise and five minutes later I was walking over one of the plentiful bridges that span the Danube to investigate.  The first area I came to was a municipal park populated by tall old isolated trees. I immediately clocked up Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Blackbirds and several Black Redstarts - but little else. On the nearby river were a few Black-headed Gulls and loads of hawking Swifts and House Martins.

Novy MostI continued walking east along the river until I came across another bridge with a curious flying saucer structure on top of it. I later found out that this was The Nový Most (New Bridge) (see right) and the ‘UFO’ was indeed a restaurant. Apparently, during the communist days Bratislavans were not allowed to see the view from this vantage point for fear that they would be tempted by the sight of nearby capitalist Austria!

It was at the bridge that I stumbled into the other ambiguous green patch on my near useless map, Sad Janka Krala (see below). Named after a Slovak poet it is a heavily wooded park that is apparently one of the oldest in Eastern Europe. I later discovered that despite this site’s apparent richness in wildlife, the developers are hovering with their beady eyes peeled and chainsaws revved.

Sad Janka Krala

I immediately saw the potential here for some reasonable birding and for the remaining three days of my stay I made the area my patch. My dedication was quickly rewarded with plentiful Hawfinches (a bird so difficult to catch up with in Britain), Blackcaps, Spotted Flycatchers, Hooded Crows and even more Black Redstarts.  I had an immature Hobby drift low over one morning being mobbed by squadrons of House Martins, scores of which nested on the undercarriage of Nový Most.

Red-backed Shrike and Hawfinch
Red-backed Shrike (left) and Hawfinch - excellent city birds

The ornithological delights of my patch were the fifteen or so Golden Orioles that I saw daily flying around the canopies, singing and travelling from one clump of wood to another. A family of Collared Flycatchers were a delight to see despite being a nightmare to decipher from the very similar Pied Flycatcher.  Perhaps my favourite sighting was of a pair of Red-back Shrikes feeding what seemed to be just one fledgling in a small clearing on the edge of the woods. The stunning male was seen hunting large burrowing wasps on the cycle track that bypassed the clearing.

Before I could say Andalusian Hemipode, it was time to board the plane to head back to England. I learnt two things from this visit. Firstly, always have faith in your chosen patch even if, like mine, it is popular with cyclists and dog walkers. And secondly, get a decent map!

David LindoDavid Lindo is The Urban Birder ....

When David isn’t birding he works as a PA to a commercial director and he also DJ’s. He was previously Head of Membership at the British Trust for Ornithology and is the author of many articles on urban birdlife and appeared on BBC Springwatch recently looking for wildlife in the Scrubs alongside celebrity nature expert, Bill Oddie.
Visit David's own website at: www.theurbanbirder.com