As it turns out, there are only 7 or 8 Ortolans left in Austria. And they all live in the same little patch of fields between Silz and Mötz in western Tirol. According to the local expert (Andreas Danzl), they need such a complex mix of crops at specific times that the there are very few spots in the Alps that they are able to eek out a living. And every year there are fewer and fewer Ortolans about (despite Andreas' best efforts).
This species' population decline in Central Europe is echoed throughout Europe with habitat degredation and (mostly) illegal capture for gourmet dishes being the main suspects. I have just been reading a little about how these birds were (are) caught and kept in lit rooms (to disrupt their feeding cycle) and stuffed with cereals to fatten them quickly. There was nothing pleasant about that little bit of research (though it did remind me of KFC and battery chicken farming stories).
So, this morning I headed out for Silz hoping that the rain would ease enough for me to find a couple of these cool little creatures. As luck would have it, the drizzle slowed then stopped just after I got there. It took a while before I heard my first Ortolan. and then they were calling everywhere!
But annoyingly, I could not find a single one. I slowly crept closer and closer to one that was singing in a field and despite their reputation for sitting on posts, this one was calling from within the 15cm high vegetation of a fallow field. I got to within 25m of it without ever catching sight of it. Well, that was until it flew off. I spent the next 70min wandering about trying to find one. By that stage they were quite and all I could find was the related Yellow Hammer (which were then everywhere).
Persistence paid off though and I managed to find two just as it started to rain. I was able to snap off a couple of photos just in time before running back to the car.
The rain still has not stopped.
Here are some photos I managed to get yesterday evening up in Itzlranggen:
Some Redbacked Shrikes
Male Redbacked Shrike playing hide-and-go-seek ;-)
And the lovely Yellow Hammers are very vocal at the moment: