(* All my Life Birds are noted in bold)
As part of my Germany trip last month, we also planned a side trip to Rome, where we spent three days, with several stops along on the way. My grandmother, my German great aunt (with whom we were staying), and I left Barnstorf on March 6th to spend a few days in Oer-Erkenschwick where my great uncle lives. He showed us around Recklinghausen and area the next day, and our plan was to start driving toward Rome on March 8th. The destination for the day was Heidelberg in the south of Germany, a three-hour trip on the Autobahn from Oer-Erkenschwick.
Before my grandmother and I left for Germany, I had emailed one of my German birding friends, Jochen, whom I’ve known for several years through his blog and mine, and his writing at 10,000 Birds. We didn’t get the chance to meet last year since he lives in the Ulm area which is about six hours from Barnstorf. Jochen works near Heidelberg and since we were traveling through, we were able to co-ordinate times to meet and go birding together.
We decided to meet at the McDonald’s in Heidelberg around noon. We arrived at 12:30 and after introductions, my grandmother, great aunt, and great uncle went inside for a coffee and a rest, while Jochen and I drove to the old Leimen quarry to see the nesting Eurasian Eagle Owl. The owl was sitting on the nest in plain view — if you know where to look. It was such a treat to see the owl, and I took some photos and watched it for a little while before we returned to the McDonald’s. Eagle Owl update #1: as of the end of March, the owls had abandoned the nest and no-one is certain where the adults went or why they gave up on their nest. Eagle Owl update #2: Jochen let me know the other day that the owls have re-nested, so hopefully this nesting attempt will be successful.
After meeting up with my family, I went with Jochen in his car and everyone else followed in my great uncle’s car as we drove to Korsika Island within the old Rhine forest (the former “bayous” of the Rhine). On the drive to the island, Jochen spotted a Black Woodpecker flying over the road! We were incredibly lucky to see it and it was my only sighting of one throughout the whole trip.
There was a chance to see Crested Larks in a residential area along the way. We stopped to look, but there were no larks around.
A Smew had been reported a few days earlier at Korsika Island, so there was a chance it would still be around. We scanned around and found Little Grebes, Common Pochards, Great-crested Grebe, Common Linnets, Great Cormorants, Mallards, and two drake Mandarin Ducks (a lifer for me and now countable in Germany since there is a self-sufficient breeding population), but no Smew.
For some reason, on the way into the forest we missed seeing the huge stork nest and the two adult White Storks, but we saw them on the way out of the forest. Their nest is located near the village and along the road so we got out of the vehicle to look at the storks, which didn’t seem to mind our presence.
Our last stop of the day was at the well-known nature conservation area, Wagbachniederung. The Naturschutzgebiet (nature reserve) Wagbachniederung is located on the right bank of the Rhine in Waghäusel southeast of Speyer, between Mannheim and Karlsruhe and in the eastern part of the valley and covers 224 hectares. The Wagbachniederung was formerly a Rhine loop which was separated from the main stream in a natural way about 8,000 years ago. It is made up of remnants of original Ried and wet meadows, an abandoned gravel pit, and mostly of sewage and sludge ponds from a sugar factory in Waghäusel. The wetland is an important stopover for migratory birds, especially shorebirds.
My relatives visited a nearby monastery while Jochen and I walked around the wetland. We arrived around 3 pm and had just under an hour to bird the Wagbachniederung. Graylag Geese, Canada Geese, Eurasian Teals, Northern Shovelers, Common Shelducks, three male Red-crested Pochards, Northern Lapwings, Gadwalls, and Mallards were all swimming and feeding by the water. There was a slim chance we could a hear a Water Rail call, and almost on queue, one started calling! Common Reed Buntings also were present, and as our time was running out we moved on.
The three males,There’s a pathway lined with shrubs and trees between the bodies of water, and there were some European Goldfinches feeding with a single Lesser Redpoll, which Jochen said is a really good bird for the area and time of year. One of the thrush species I had missed seeing were Song Thrushes and as we passed the tree where the redpoll was feeding, a flock of Song Thrushes flew past.
We made it back to the parking lot just after 4. I had a really wonderful time and I’m so glad we had a chance to meet and to go birding together. I’d like to thank Jochen again for making time to show me around. I saw lots of species I couldn’t have seen with out his guidance. I’m hoping we can go birding again soon, Jochen!