A gravel pit: home for Sand Martins

UferschwalbeOccasionally, I drive a lonely country road along. Right beside the road a gravel pit, excavated only in the back part, can be found. The mine is located in a flat agricultural area. Scenic beauty is only revealed to the connoisseur . Many walkers or joggers therefore do not pass by. Once, I passed by with the car and parked next to an embankment. Flying Bank Swallows or Sand Martins (Riparia riparia) could be seen on and near their breeding tubes only a few meters away. They did not felt bothered by the vehicle because they all were very busy. They were flying constantly and fed their young .

I carefully placed my Canon 4,0/ 600 mm over the side window to shoot one image after another. It is always amazing how close you might come to Sand Martins. In several breeding tunnels nearly fledged young birds are sitting. Some are courageous enough to venture out of the entry holes . The youngs received their feeding parents with wide, yellow gapes. They are greedily begging for food. In the intervals between feeding, the young spend the time preening.

Suddenly one of the young Sand Martins lost his balance and slipped down the slope. Peeping and flapping the wings it quickly reaches the nest entrance again. Lucky bird! In some breeding tubes, you can be see that many young birds have already flown. But they juveniles regularly come back to the brood wall. They usually accompany their parents which still feed the latecomers in the nests – their younger siblings. Some of the adult birds are still or again busy with the nesting activities. Right next to me is flying sand from the well. A Bank Swallow is digging a cave. While the head disappears into the gravel wall, its partner sits just a few meters away. It is very cautious and guards the airspace. When danger is detached, it gives alarm by acoustic signals. It is nice to see how a couple is trying to bring in a long blade of grass as nesting material. Not an easy task. Another Sand Martin is holding a feather in its beak. This is of course ideal cushioning material for the nest hollow. Meanwhile I’m trying to capture as many aspects of colony and family life with the camera as possible. I am dedicated to especially trying to catch one of the flying Sand Martins flying out of the tube right in front of me. In other words, focus on an imaginary point and press the shutter at the right moment. In spite of the possibilities of the new AF systems this is not so easy. More than one photo per departure therefore is not possible.

One of the best places in the Rhine -Main area for the observation of Sand Martin ( Riparia riparia ) is certainly the Weilbacher gravel pit. A paradise for birds. Here you can look quite close by a connecting causeway into the breeding tunnels from above. As there is a fence, you not bother the birds. The pit is located near the town of Weilbach, which is only 20 km west of Frankfurt city and not far from Frankfurt Airport. Gravel mining took place since the 60th of the 20th century. A portion of the resultant landscape was reclaimed and is now home for many bird species. Some parts of the pits were not filled again. Instead, this area was designated as a Nature Reserve (Naturschutzgebiet, NSG).

Besides the Sand Martins, some other good birds are possible to observe. One morning in June all four species of Sylvia-Warblers, which regularly occur in Germany, could be seen in and around the pit. First a male of a Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) showed up in the first light of this chilly but sunny morning. Then a beautiful singing individual of a Common Whitethroat (Sylvia communis) could be seen very near to an observation tower which is located on the eastern end of the old gravel pit. A Lesser Whitethroat (Sylvia curruca) showed up briefly afterwards. And finally even a silent Garden Warbler (Sylvia borin) could be seen catching a caterpillar in a dense bush.

To cope with the growing demand for top shots of the rarer species of the Palearctic Bird-Lens is keen to enrich the range of pictures of birds you can find in the western palearctic.  Trips to remote places or to tourist spots to capture images of rare birds of western palearctic were very successful. The beautiful image you find on this blog , is just a taste of what you will find in the gallery “Picture- Shop” . Just give me know if bird- lens.com can serve you with an additional image.

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