All creatures great and small
Suddenly there is a ripple on the surface of an otherwise placid branch of the Danube, just a few steps from the U2 subway bridge. A few seconds later, the head of a curious beaver breaks through to the surface to inspect its surroundings: a quick glance to check whether his mate and kids can follow in safety. With his family in tow, the expert dam builder is off on another nocturnal adventure.
There are around 250 European beavers in Vienna. “They live in lodges, which to the untrained eye look like random piles of branches and leaves,” explains Georg Popp, an experienced Viennese nature photographer, who is behind the Viennese Wilderness project with his wife Verena. Together they want their photographs and films to raise awareness of the city’s rich flora and fauna. We witnessed their passion for the subject matter first hand, as we lay in wait hoping to catch sight of various animals in an urban photo safari.
From the water to the skies
Beavers aren’t the only animals to live their lives in and around the water. Vienna’s underwater world is home to some surprising species. Photographers can expect to find crayfish and yellow-bellied slider turtles in addition to fish. “But it’s not just the animals in the water that capture the imagination. Photos taken from the water show the city from an impressive angle,” the photographer explained hours earlier while we were watching a colony of gray herons at the water park in Floridsdorf. “Gray herons even nest in urban environments. It’s relatively easy to get good photos of them building nests, defending their territory and feeding their young,” Georg Popp confirms.
Ground squirrels and dandelions
It takes a bit of creativity to catch one of Vienna’s approximately 8,500 ground squirrels on camera. Georg Popp has a trick or two up his sleeve: “Ground squirrels really don’t like tall plants. Place a dandelion or blade of grass in front of their burrow and it won’t be long before they come out to cut the offending item down to size.” These cute little rodents have made themselves right at home at the Hirschstetten plant nurseries. And it’s not just photographers that go weak at the knees when a whole family of ground squirrels puts in a surprise appearance, darting between visitors and park benches.
Wild rabbits are every bit as cute. A sizeable colony has taken up residence on the banks of the Danube by the busy railway line at Handelskai. But here too patience is a virtue, as they are easily spooked.
Central (animal) cemetery
Equally shy, deer bolt at the sight of a human. However, considerable numbers of them live on the outskirts of Vienna in one of the largest cemeteries in Europe – “Long Live the Central Cemetery” as the famous song by Austropop legend Wolfgang Ambros goes! The Jewish part of the Central Cemetery conjures up a particularly romantic scene with its tapered ivy-covered headstones. And any intrepid photographer lucky enough to find dark brown doe eyes staring back at them from between the graves will be in seventh heaven – even if the animal scampers off before the image can be brought into focus.
It’s definitely worth going on a safari through the Viennese urban jungle. Besides a healthy dose of patience, budding photographers will need to keep their wits about them – and with any luck the beavers and ground squirrels will play along.
Text: Angelika Öttl
Visit www.wienerwildnis.at for some impressive wildlife shots.