Sumava Mountains, Czech Republic, April 1st - 3rd 2004

Published by Surfbirds Admin (surfbirds AT


"Woodpeckers and Owls"

by John Hopper, Mike Hodgkin and Nigel Davis

In 2003, Mike and myself spent a week in the Czech Republic from May 17th-23rd. Whilst we enjoyed some excellent birding we were a little too late for certain species, particularly the owls and woodpeckers.

At the time, our guide suggested a return trip around late March or early April which was the optimum time to see our target species, notably Hazel Grouse, Ural Owl, Pygmy Owl, White-backed Woodpecker and Three-toed Woodpecker.

The area which we visited were the Sumava Mountains in South Bohemia, approximately three hours drive from Prague. Heavy snowfall a few days prior to our visit meant that we were unable to drive as far up some of the forest tracks as we would have liked and the underfoot conditions made walking difficult in places. However during our three days there the weather was glorious, it was cold, but bright and clear with light winds.

Based at the small town of Volary we were only a short drive from Mount Boubin, which was undoubtably the best place for woodpeckers. We also visited several other sites in the forest, all of which were close by.

Details on some of the rarer species we saw are as follows:

Hazel Grouse. This is a very difficult species to see despite the area holding several hundred pairs. Don't expect to find birds feeding on the forest floor, you will almost certainly be disappointed. We walked and drove for several kilometres along numerous forest tracks without success. Apparently our best and probably only chance of seeing a bird was to disturb one feeding on a forest track. As it happened this turned out to be exactly the case as near the end of a six or seven kilometre walk our guide spotted one as it flew off the track and into the forest some way ahead of us. Unfortunately none of us saw it but a few seconds later a second individual flew up from the same spot and we all enjoyed brief flight views. As we approached closer, one of the birds flew off through the trees. These two birds proved to be the only ones we saw.

Ural Owl. Only a handful of pairs breed in the Sumava Mountains and we visited the same site where we failed to see the species in 2003. We arrived about an hour before sunset and searched an open area with scattered Spruce trees, which the bird regularly frequents. Unfortunately there was no sign and we began to walk back to the car. Darkness was falling along with our hopes. As we returned to where our car was parked a bird suddenly began calling and soon became quite vocal. Although the light conditions were not particularly good we enjoyed quite acceptable views of the bird in flight and perched in the surrounding Spruce trees.

Pygmy Owl An early morning visit to a site close to Volary was immediately rewarded with a male calling almost as soon as we had arrived. The bird was very vocal and excellent views were obtained as it perched on the very tops of various Spruce trees. In flight we were all amazed by its tiny size when it appeared absolutely minute. We returned to the site the same evening and once again the male was calling almost continuously as it sat on the tops of the trees. Later a female began calling before we witnessed several attempts at copulation.

Slavek our guide informed us that he had only observed mating on a very few occasions despite studying the species for several years.

Tengmalm's Owl Mike and myself had seen this species during our previous visit in May 2003 when we were shown a bird in an occupied nestbox. Unfortunately the birds would not have returned to the boxes by early April so our chances of adding it to this trip list seemed slim. Whilst looking for woodpeckers on Mount Boubin we heard at least two different birds calling in the daytime on two separate days but they proved impossible to locate. Whilst watching the Pygmy Owls during the evening visit a Tengmalm's Owl began calling close by in a dense Spruce plantation and Slavek went to investigate. After a few moments he had located the bird, which was, perched at eye level only a few metres in front of us. It sat looking at us for a couple of minutes before flying off a short distance into the forest where it continued calling.

During our visit in May 2003 locating woodpeckers proved rather frustrating. There was little in the way of calling or drumming and the foliage cover was quite dense. This time we hoped it would be more productive and as it was we were not disappointed.

Black Woodpecker Several birds were heard calling along with loud bursts of drumming. We saw two or three individuals although the sightings were brief.

Grey-headed Woodpecker A pair were seen well with one or two further individuals heard calling and drumming.

White-backed Woodpecker This was one of our target species and one which we did not want to miss. Birds were of the race leucotos, which displays far more white on the back than the race lilfordi.

We concentrated in an area on Mount Boubin where Slavek our guide had located an occupied territory. The area consisted of mature Spruce and Beech forest including several dead trees. Because of the snow we were unable to access other known sites. The first day was frustrating as we heard the distinctive drumming of this species and almost certainly glimpsed one bird. The second day was just as bad with more drumming and two birds flying over our heads which could not be identified with certainty. It proved to be third time lucky on the final day when we enjoyed good views of a male drumming and heard a female calling.

Three-toed Woodpecker The same area which held White-backed Woodpecker also held an occupied territory of Three-toed Woodpecker. Both visits on days one and two drew a complete blank with no sign at all of the birds. A third visit on our last day and our hopes were not high. However our luck was in and we soon heard the distinctive somewhat slower drumming of this species. Despite appearing close we were unable to locate it and the drumming ceased. We carried on further up the track but unfortunately there was no sign of any birds.

We decided to return to where we had heard the drumming previously and once again a bird started up. This time we managed to locate it along with a second bird, which we were able to watch as they moved amongst the Spruce trees before flying off through the forest.

Some other species seen of note were:

Black-necked Grebe 14 birds in summer plumage.

White Stork A single bird seen.

Marsh Harrier One bird was noted.

Common Buzzard Several were observed.

Goshawk A single was heard calling in the forest but could not be located.

Woodcock At least two seen.

Black Redstart Three or four birds included singing males.

Firecrest A total of four birds were seen and heard.

Crested Tit A few were seen and heard.

Great Grey Shrike Two, probably a pair.

Hooded Crow Only one was recorded.

Raven A single was seen.

Brambling Very common with several hundred noted.

Siskin Numerous.

Hawfinch Two to three birds were recorded.

Crossbill Small parties were seen and heard at several sites in the forest.

If anyone would like any further details then please contact John Hopper on 0115 9525051
Or e-mail john.hopper1(at)