Before I left Canada for Europe in early January, I emailed my German friend, Jochen, who writes at 10,000 Birds as well as his personal blog, to ask about birding in Lower Saxony during our visit to my grandmother’s cousin’s family. Jochen helped me with my list of target species and sent me maps of the area where we would be staying. I was also hoping that we might get to meet after several years of corresponding, but Jochen doesn’t live nearby.
Jochen also mentioned my name on some German birding listservs, and from there I got in touch with Imme and Ludger, birders from the Barnstorf area. I made plans to go out birding with them one day during our stay, in mid-January. We stayed at my grandmother’s cousin’s farm and had a wonderful time.
Their house is 100 years old and they have a dairy farm, where we were able to help with chores. Imme and Ludger collected my mother and me at 9am at the farm. The morning was quite frosty with some fog, but as the day progressed the sun came out and the day was perfect for a birding trip.
I didn’t have much time to do any birding on my own in Germany, so having Imme and Ludger to show me around was terrific.
The first species we saw were Little Grebes, Whooper Swans, and Tundra Bean Geese in a field near my family’s house. We didn’t stop for too long at any one place as Imme and Ludger were eager to find as many species as possible.
Imme and Ludger used a well-illustrated german field guide, and I had my iPad with the Collin Bird app. Between the two, it was easy to get both the German and English names for each species.
Many of the fields, such as this one at Lange Lohe, were filled with hundreds of Fieldfares and Mistlethrushes,
When we arrived in Germany, everyone was talking about the cranes (or Kranich in German) which are now stopping in Northern Europe on their migration route, with some birds overwintering in Germany.
We were able to find several small flocks of cranes, often with Tundra Bean Geese. The cranes were very skittish, but we got some very nice views. In total, we saw 66 Common Cranes.
At the Drebbersches Moor near Lange Lohe we saw European Starlings, a small flock of Egyptian Geese which flew above us, more Fieldfares and Mistlethrushes, and a Yellowhammer singing at the top of a tree.
The last bird we saw near the moor was a Redwing sitting at the top of a tree. The Redwing and Yellowhammer were sitting in the trees in the middle of the photo, There was a Hen Harrier (or Northern Harrier in North America) hunting around the fields. We walked to the moor and my mother and I were both expecting to see vast marshland, but what we saw was so very different, As far as the eye could see were stacks of drying peat cultivated from the moor. Imme and Ludger told us that Black Grouse is now extinct in the area because of habitat loss in the moors. We saw many birds just driving around, including many flocks of swans and geese. In one of the flocks, we found three species of swans including Mute, Tundra, and Whooper Swans. While we looking at the swans through the scope, a bunch of Greenfinches flew past.
One of the best birding areas in the region is around Dümmer Lake which is particularly good for waterfowl. As we walked to the dock in Hüde, a Sparrowhawk flew right in front of us chasing a small songbird.
There were quite a few Chaffinches, Great Tits, and Blue Tits in the trees near the dock. Because of the cooler night time temperatures, the lake was frozen near the shore, and the only birds that were around were Graylag Geese sitting on the ice.
We left Hüde and drove to the west side of the lake. On the west side, we were hoping to find the White-tailed Eagles that had been seen in the area. We parked the vehicle and walked a little ways. On the walk we saw a Great Egret, a Gadwall, and had a better look at a Common Snipe.
Imme and Ludger set up their scopes and started looking for the eagles, which were sitting in some trees quite a distance away, but we could clearly see their white tails through the scope.
A sign near the Dümmer letting you know you are entering a nature reserve, On the south-west side of Dümmer Lake, there’s another observation platform where we found open water. On the lake, we saw lots of Mallards, Common Mergansers, European Wigeons, Tufted Ducks, Black-headed Gulls, and a Great Black-backed Gull flying by.
As we were about to leave the platform, Ludger saw some pipits in the tall grass. In Germany, in winter, there are two species of pipits, but we weren’t able to get good views, so the pipits went unidentified. We did however see a female European Stonechat, which was a very nice find,
In Lembruch, we walked along the beach and found some Common Mergansers, Eurasian Coots, Mallards, Great Cormorants, a Mew Gull, and Caspian Gull, both lifers for me.
From Lembruch, we drove to the Osterfeiner Moor looking for shrikes that had been seen by other birders, but we didn’t find any. There were a few Northern Lapwings, European Goldfinches, and this Common Buzzard with a European Hare, At the Osterfeine Sewage Treatment Plant we saw Eurasian Teals, Mallards, and Eurasian Coots. The teals swam away as we got closer, but the coots didn’t seem to mind our presence.
Near the end of our drive, we stopped at the meadows north of Dümmer Lake to look at a large flock of geese. The flock mostly consisted of Canada Geese, a few Tundra Bean Geese, Greater White-fronted Geese, and a handful of Barnacle Geese.
The last birds we saw were Stock Doves feeding in a field. We were unable to stop because we were on a highway, but I got a good look at the doves as we drove past.
Thank you so much to Jochen for all his help before my departure and to Imme and Ludger for sharing their birding knowledge and taking the better part of a day to show me the birds around such a beautiful part of their country. We had some very good conversations, and I learned a good deal about birds and birding in Germany; Imme said that there are few young people and women birding in Germany.
Here’s a list of all the species we saw (in order of appearance). The species in bold were lifers for me:
Little Grebe, Whooper Swan, Tundra Bean Goose, Eurasian Jay, Mistle Thrush, Carrion Crow, Ring-necked Pheasant, Wood Pigeon, Common Magpie, Common Blackbird, Fieldfare, Song Thrush, Common Crane, Greater-White fronted Goose, Canada Goose, Common Buzzard, Yellowhammer, Hen Harrier, Egyptian Goose, Common Kestrel, Redwing, Northern Lapwing, European Starling, Tundra Swan, Mute Swan, Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Great Cormorant, European Goldfinch, Rook, Great Egret, Greylag Goose, Eurasian Moorhen, White-tailed Eagle, Gadwall, Common Snipe, European Stonechat, Great Tit, Common Blackbird, European Wigeon, Tufted Duck, Mallard, Great-crested Grebe, Great Black-backed Gull, Blue Tit, European Robin, Grey Heron, Sparrowhawk, Caspian Gull, Mew Gull, Eurasian Coot, Common Merganser, Black-headed Gull, House Sparrow, Eurasian Teal, Barnacle Goose, and Stock Dove.