Vogel im Kopf 2 (Birds in the Burbs)

If the disappearance of parked cars on Vienna’s streets (near where I reside) has been the biggest visual shift to the number one city in my time here as English Language Scrum Master, my entry for most surreal came very recently as I ventured out for a two hour trek to Oberlaa in the 10th district (as it happened in search of some peace and quiet and perhaps a sight of some of our feathered friends and other animals).

Turning into cul-de-sac behind our house, about fifty metres ahead of me I could see two horses trotting in the shadow of the Drasche Crypt in the Inzersdorf cemetery. As they emerged behind several parked cars continuing along the pavement (I was standing on the other side), I could see that they were both following a smaller horse, perhaps a pony or some kind of pygmy.

I have seen some weird shit in my time in Vienna (mostly on the Womble U6 underground/overground line) but things only improved as they passed a few metres in front of me followed by the distant and desperate cries of, “Hannibal, Hannibal!” And just like that, from round the corner, came four police officers followed by a cherry-faced owner clutching a bridle of some kind.

By the sound of their laboured breathing it was (a) clear they had been in pursuit for some time and (b) clear they were never going to catch anything. Yet just like in the movies, I stood there open-mouthed watching this comical scene unfold. More importantly it was at this pivotal moment I finally understood the true importance of the utterance: WTF. Of course, I should have filmed it with my tiny television and sent it to local daily Heute and claimed my fifty Euro, but I didn’t want to be accused of not helping. Or worse, I couldn’t be sure it wasn’t part of Verstehen Sie Spass? (The German language version of Game For A Laugh).

Much amused I sped forth to the Liesing Stream. Now, we have come across the Liesing before (see here) and it is one of safe spaces in the number one city. Much like Harry Potter’s Voldemort using concealed horcruxes, these are scattered about Vienna to preserve my soul and stop the inevitable descent into psychological tyranny (others include my favourite table in Café Eiles, the forests of Mauer and the art shop Boesner, but you will have to buy my 7-volume treatise on the Vienna dream and go to magic school to discover the location of the others).

However, before we get to birds, which I hope have not been frightened away, I feel it is my duty to tell you that part of the stream (between Großmarktstraße and Gutheil-Schoder-Gasse) is currently undergoing a process of rewilding (Renaturierung). According to my sources the existing hard paving currently acting as the base and sides of this part of the stream, will be broken up, crushed onsite and then reinstalled as part of the riverbed. (Which reminds me, I have to speak to my therapist.) The banks will then be “flattened”, creating small bays and shallows and in turn become “ideal habits for juvenile fish, insects and other water-bound creatures”. And in a nod to other eco-warriors, this will also include 200 new trees (maple, elm, lime and black cherry).

All in all, for the lucky residents of the Liesingbach (I presume they mean people living close by, not the beavers) the project will mean “an increase in green space, new trees will provide much need shade, animals and plants will thrive and the shore areas will enhance quality of life for walkers, runners, cyclists and even that miserable sod ViennaDad”.

Which all sounds splendid. But who cares about millions of EU funding being spent on nature preservation and enhancement when we have the latest craze sweeping the 23rd and 10th districts of the number one city. Yes, it is time for Liesingbach BIRD BINGO!

Eyes down and in no particular order:

1. The Moorhen (Teichhuhn) – a bird with an “oddly nervous manner” and, much like me, “runs or swims into cover at any hint of danger (or the presence of Germans)”.

2. The Pied Wagtail (Bachstelze) – the raver of birds, “chases insects with agile leaps and runs constantly, nodding their heads and bobbing their tails”. (Other related Wagtails are either Grey or Yellow. Although please note the Yellow Wagtail heads to Africa in winter to seek the “grazing herds of the tropical grasslands”, whilst the Greys head to the “grazing herds of deer of the temperate, Red Bull can adorned farmlands of Unterlaa” (10th district).

3. The Goosander (Gänsesäger) – is a “shy, wary bird and easily scared off by intruders”. This year I have seen three pairs (the stretch between Gross Markt Strasse and Himbergerstrasse) which is an increase on previous years and undoubtedly arising from Vienna’s return to the top of the liveability rankings after the Covid years.

4. The Grey Heron (Graureihe) – one is almost guaranteed to see this large, easy to identify distant cousin of a Tetradactyl (although the distribution map in my RSPB guidebook suspiciously doesn’t seem to include Austria). However, if you are lucky (and patient) you might see one of them catching a fish although in my experience, they don’t like to be observed for too long (a typical feature of all residents in the number one city).

5. The Kestrel (Turmfalke) – like a certain kind of parent, the Kestrel is famous for its hovering. It is one of the most common of falcons and seems to favour specific parts of the Liesing given the proximity to fields and stretches of huge Poplar trees providing the perfect vantage point to hunt prey and wind up small dogs. Best place to see them is opposite the Haschahoff Pflückgarten which translates badly as “picking garden” but is basically an area of small plots of farmland (pre-planted with organic vegetables) which are then rented to inner city slickers.

6. The Kingfisher (Eisvogel) – admittedly my favourite, Alcedo Atthis is usually glimpsed as a “streak of electric blue”. Like my neighbour to the south, its shape is unique and can often be located by its “shrill whistled calls”. Inevitably, given its German name (ice-bird) one is more likely to see it in winter, a result of a perfect synthesis of less foliage and, more importantly given their aversion to fuss, less people.

7. Oh yes, and two little ducks. Quack, quack.

© 2023 RJ Barratt