One of the last and most exceptional remaining riparian wildernesses: join us on an exploration of the Morava River in the heart of Europe. Particularly in its last 60 kilometres, along the border between Austria and Slovakia, the river develops a distinctive personality and international significance, forming vast wetlands containing meadows, forests and a wild network of branches and streams.
Just a stone’s throw from these wetlands, there are ancient sand dunes on both sides of the border. The animals and plants here thrive in dry, hot and sandy surroundings in which the sky appears to meet the land and the sun and clouds create picturesque landscapes that are reminiscent of the American west.
Only a few species are able to navigate both of these vastly different worlds. Among them are the birds of prey, and, above all the eastern imperial eagle; the Morava marks the westernmost point of their distribution area.
Wild boars and deer are equally comfortable moving between the two different habitats, leaving the safety of the riparian forests to find food in the cultivated fields and meadows of the steppe landscape. Regular flooding often drives the region’s larger animals to higher, more arid elevations. Entire herds of red deer, fallow deer, wild boars and even mouflons can frequently be seen wading or swimming through the river and its many tributaries.
Between May and July, the air is filled with scarce swallowtails. These butterflies are able to glide on thermal currents without beating their wings for several minutes at a time and are often found drifting down the sides of hills and mounds on a quest to find a mate. Close-by, some of Europe’s most colourful birds, bee-eaters, have established a colony.
The annual flooding defines life along on the Morava. It is the life force of the wetlands. The floodwater penetrates far inland, creating ponds and puddles and contributes to the diversity of the local flora and fauna. As soon as the waters begin to recede, fish enthusiasts such as herons and storks settle on the damp ground, attracted by fish trapped in puddles. Foxes emerge to try a little fishing, and even white-tailed eagles occasionally partake of the generous fish buffet.
At dawn and dusk, wild animals such as beavers and European water voles that are rarely seen during the day emerge along the river.
Konik ponies have grazed in the meadows that surround the stork colony for several years. Also known as Polish primitive horses, these animals are closely related to the extinct Eurasian wild horse or tarpan and are perfectly adapted to the coarse environment of the wetlands.
The white storks in Marchegg are busy at this time of year. Several decades ago, the birds established a colony in ancient oaks behind the local castle, just 400 metres from the river. It is the largest such colony in central Europe. Depending on the season and conditions, up to 30 or 40 breeding pairs inhabit the various levels of this WWF nature reserve at any one time. When they embark on their long journey south, at the end of August, loud calls announce the beginning of deer rutting season.
Slow-moving rivers surrounded by both wetlands and an encroaching dry, hot steppe landscape have become scarce in central Europe. This film simultaneously explores and pays tribute to one of the last and most exceptional remaining riparian wildernesses in this part of the world.