Birding in Germany

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, IMG_7721

Here we are looking for a Common Snipe that didn’t want to be found.

Here we are looking for a Common Snipe that didn’t want to be found.

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Still looking for the snipe

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.

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Two Common Cranes and Tundra Bean Geese

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, IMG_7728unnamed-2 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, IMG_7727 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. unnamed-1 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.

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Some Tundra (Bewick’s) Swans

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.

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A Great Egret near the Dümmer Lake

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A Gadwall in a ditch near the Dümmer

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.

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Graylag Geese along the Hunte river which runs through the Dümmer Lake.

A sign near the Dümmer letting you know you are entering a nature reserve, IMG_0809-2 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, IMG_7750

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A view of Dümmer Lake from the observation platform

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, IMG_7755 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.

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Eurasian Coots

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.

Birding News #55

:: Edmonton, Alberta, is the world’s capital of “ghost” or imperfect albino Black-billed Magpies

 :: A new study finds that jackdaws can communicate silently, just with their eyes 

:: Two more Whooping Cranes have been shot, this time in Louisiana. The cranes were a pair, the female was killed and the male seriously injured.

:: City-dwelling humans are affecting urban birds, according to a new study on the effects of urbanization on the stress response system of House Finches and the effects of an intestinal parasite and a virus on the birds.

:: The US Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee has approved the bill to reauthorize the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act; the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), “says the program is a good value because it supports the hobby of bird watching”

:: New Scientist has an in-depth profile of researcher Kazuo Okanoya and his pioneering work with Bengalese Finches and the key they might hold to learning more about human speech

:: Lead poisoning is becoming an increasing problem for birds in Virginia

:: A new US study reports that as many as 988 million birds in the country die annually from window collisions, and that most birds aren’t killed en masse hitting skyscrapers but from occasional collisions with many smaller buildings.

:: The Great Backyard Bird Count is this week — February 14th to the 17th. Click here to find out more about the count.

:: 11-year-old birder Mya-Rose Craig has an impressive life list of over 3,000 bird species

:: The town of Hempstead, Long Island, in New York, has outlawed feeding Rock Pigeons, ducks, and geese, to reduce the problem of cars, houses, and yards covered with excrement.

Great posts in birding blogs this week: 

:: From John at Two Birders and Binoculars: Rusty Blackbird Migration Blitz: Help Wanted!

:: From Kathy at Still Life with a BirderThe Zen Of A Rusty Hinge

:: From Shyloh at Beakingoff: A Detailed Telling of my Antarctic Journey – Part 4 – Elephant Island

:: From Laurence at Butler’s BirdsEncanto Encounters–Reigniting an Old Flame

:: Josh at Birding is Fun: Winter Rarities Keeping the Birding Action Hot!

:: From Robert at Birding for a LarkThe spring passage has begun

Birding News #52

:: Two Whooping Cranes were shot and killed in Kentucky last week

:: Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is starting a visit to Israel, where he will visit the newly renamed Stephen J. Harper Hula Valley Bird Sanctuary Visitor and Education Centre, located along a migration route in northern Israel.

:: Amazonian Macaws pairs usually lay four eggs but it’s rare for the parents to fledge more than one chick

::  70 Barred Owls have been shot in the U.S. northwest as part of a plan to help the endangered Northern Spotted Owl population recover

:: The Calgary Zoo hosted a symposium last week to come up with strategies and a plan to save the endangered Greater Sage-Grouse in Alberta

:: 16 year-old Logan Kahle is doing a Big Year in California and hopes to beat the previous record of 479 species

Great posts in birding blogs this week: 

:: From Nathan at The EyrieOpen Mic: Hog Island Adventures!

:: From Auriel at Natural AusterityHow to Enjoy Cold Weather

:: From Kirby at Birding is FunCold (not Angry) Birds

:: From Tim at Bird CanadaThe Wounded of Weed Lake: an on-going tale of winter survival

:: From Steve at Bourbon, Bastards, and BirdsCarara National Park (Part II)

Birding News #51

:: Two Bald Eagles were killed last week at the Medicine River Wildlife Centre in Alberta, Canada, after the roof of the eagles’ enclosure collapsed from a heavy snow load

:: An article from USA Today about the upcoming Great Backyard Bird Count on February 14th – 17th

:: The Red-necked Phalarope is one of the UK’s rarest birds, but one Phalarope made a 16,000 mile trip during its annual migration

::  AltaLink and retired forest scientist and environmentalist David McIntyre are investigating reports of a mass bird kill — hundreds of ducks — by an AltaLink power corridor just north of Pincher Creek, Alberta; The Calgary Herald also had an article two days later.

:: The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has released its new free Merlin Bird ID app, which uses eBird to help birders identify birds in your area. You can download it on iTunes here.

:: The Calgary Herald weighs in with an editorial in favor of protecting Sage Grouse habitat: “Albertans understand that the energy industry is tremendously important to our province’s prosperity, but they also accept responsibility for caring for the environment, including endangered wildlife species. If the City of Medicine Hat and LGX Oil & Gas Inc. have identified some glaring faults in the protection plan, by all means air them, but under no circumstances can the survival of an iconic prairie bird rest on a wing and a prayer. The time for action has long passed.”

Great posts in birding blogs this week: 

:: From Kathie at Birding is FunSaying Good-bye to Arizona Birds

:: From Rob at The City BirderA Decade of Brooklyn Bird Blogging

:: From Clare at 10,000 Birds: Common Noddy in Broome

:: From Jeff at the ABA BlogABA’s 2014 Bird of the Year Revealed!

:: From Eileen at Viewing nature with Eileen: Loch Raven walk

:: From Jeff at NeoVista BirdingErrand Birding: More Productive Than Simply Birding?

Birding News #50

:: A Snowy Owl survived a collision with a pickup truck in Ohio

:: An article about all the new species of birds discovered in 2013

:: A USA Today story for the New Year about the renewed popularity of birding

:: The city of Medicine Hat, Alberta, has filed a joint application along with LGX Oil & Gas Inc. to ask that a recent federal environmental protection order, to help save the Greater Sage Grouse, be quashed or suspended to protect the viability of the city’s oilfields; the filing came just as the 30-day appeal period was set to expire.

:: Alberta’s proposed South Saskatchewan Regional Plan for the southern part of the province is open for public consultation until January 15th; the government is planning to finalize the SSRP this winter and put it into effect in April. There are good articles here on the SSRP by The Calgary Herald‘s environment reporter and by Kevin Van Tighem, author and retired superintendent of Banff National Park.

:: The Moluccan Woodcock may not be as endangered as scientists thought

:: New Hampshire state representative David Campbell killed six ducks with his BMW

:: Neil Hayward’s Big Year made it into The Boston Globe

:: A story from The Wall Street Journal about the controversy of playing tape calls

:: Two Bald Eagles were shot and killed in Maryland

Great posts in birding blogs this week: 

:: From Michael at The EyrieOpen Mic: Citizens clean up and researchers protect birds after oil spill

:: From Dan at Birds CalgaryMy 2013 Birding Year in Review

:: From Neil at The Accidental Big Year: Cooking with Skuas

:: From Kenneth at Rosyfinch RamblingsHungry cormorant babies

:: From Kathleen at BirdworthyDoesn’t Rain, But It Snows

:: From Julie at Birding is FunThe Longboat Key Pelican Squadron