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Sumava 8th to 25th April (1 Viewer)

den mather

Well-known member
Not a dedicated bird trip, but several dollops of time off to go looking for local owls and woodpeckers. My wife Helena having come to Scotland in 1968 always wanted to have a house in Sumava and we got an old farmhouse when the Russians were leaving Czecho. Rebuilding it in those days made 'A year in Provence' look like a prefabricated kit job but it was finally done and when she got MS and eventually needed a wheelchair it proved easy to modify and its now a comfy base between Strakonice and Susice.
For those who don't know this area its an hour and a half south of Prague. Rural Czechs tend to live in villages rather than scattered farmhouses and the big fields are rarely fenced but wander at their edges between lakes and run tentative fingers into the surrounding woods. Its therefore easy to walk anywhere and there is a good system of marked tracks. We are nearly 2000ft up and the country is rolling hills each one topped by a wood. If you walk south the hills rise, the farmland shrinks and the hilltop woods join to form the great south bohemian forest. At the Bavarian or Austrian borders the hills are up to 5000ft with pretty continuous forest. The area is laced with fishponds of all sizes, often medieval, and many small rivers. Oaks planted along the dams can be several centuries old. Above all, the beer is excellent.
The weather when we arrived was sunny and 18 deg at midday and minus 15 sitting round the bonfire at midnight, under the milky way and assorted satellites and shooting stars. No wind and dry so it didnt feel too cold.
Having found the more difficult birds in their famous haunts in past years we wanted to see what there was locally. In particular, we wanted to get Helena good views of Black Woodpecker, which we'd glimpsed in the area over the years but not regularly in one place. By now we'ld an idea where to find good habitat and we were armed for the first time with a cd player. After Helena's exercises at the new Horazdovice pool we had a quick lunch and drove1k south on the minor Hejna 'loop' road to the little hill of Prachen at the top of which you can park in the wood by the chapel. The forest falls steeply to the river, is mixed and importantly has some areas of old beech trees. We played the cd track 3 times and listened. We were thrilled to hear a distant call and waited. After a couple of minutes of looking and listening I practised my whistling etc and suddenly we had a male bursting at full speed out of the wood and right over the top of the car to perch on a nearby trunk. We could clearly see the tear in his eye. We could hardly believe our luck and were thinking of going home to celebrate but thought we should try the other sites we'ld planned enroute. The next was 5 minutes drive south past the quarry and up to the T junction but no chance of getting a wheelchair near so we continued 2 or 3 ks down to Nezamyslice and west a k to the west end of the lake where a good track can be driven past the reed bed to the foot of the hill, again mixed old trees and little clearing up of the fallen ones. I was now pretty familiar with the cd track and after playing it 3 times and thinking I'ld turned it off was annoyed to find it playing a 4th time. I only realised when I checked that it really was off and a blackie was copying it's sequence perfectly! The male and female appeared almost immediately on the edge of the wood so we beat a hasty retreat to site 4. Again we were heading for oldish water edge wood. Back a k through Nezamyslice and 2k more almost to our village, Frymburk, we turned south for 1k on the Matice road to take the track off it to the pond and new little grassy dam. On turning off the engine we could hear a lesser spotted close by but we got the cd going again and after 3 plays and a 1 minute whistle we had a male over the car again and perching nearby on trees by the water. Again we made a quick, quiet retreat and this time thought we had earned a beer in Susice - about 15 ks south. After the beer I wanted to return to Frymburk via Albrechtice to make a first try for 3 toed woodpecker in the hills above. 1k out of Susice up on the ridge a big clearing opened and feeling the need to get rid of some beer I jumped out of the car and was half way through when the by now well known call came from the nearby wood. As soon as I could I grabbed the cd and almost immediately our 4th sighting in one afternoon was confirmed as one sailed out over the clearing to inspect the car giving Helena superb views!
I went back and marched up to our 2nd (non wheelchair) site later in the week and was duly scolded by another pair so I think conservatively there are at least 6 pairs within a 15 minute radius of the house 4 of which we'ld probably confirmed. Shows what inefficient birders we'ld been in failing to notice more than the odd one or two every summer and also shows how easy it is to see them if you have a cd and can whistle and prrrrk and search in mid April! Tomorrow will do the Eagle Owls.
Sounds like the world capital of Black Woodpeckers. A terrific, and tempting, description of the environment too!

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