In March 2019 I visited Ghana with Birdquest specifically to search for the White-necked Rockfowl – or Yellow-headed Picathartes – (Picathartes gymnocephalus). Previously, colonies of this bird sought by many avian enthusiasts had been recorded throughout the rainforest zone of western Africa. Ceaseless deforestation destroyed all known populations, and the bird was considered extinct in Ghana a few decades ago.
However, scientists suspected that they still existed in hard-to-reach places and tried to look for suitable spots in the interior of West Africa. The hope was confirmed when several indigenous hunters responded on appropriate questions that they knew the bird and claimed that they still existed. Then a few years ago the news broke that picathartes had been rediscovered in Ghana at a community forest reserve.
Researchers studied the environment and discovered several more colonies. Some of these colonies were opened to tourism after researchers found that responsible birdwatchers are perceived by the birds to be of little disturbance.
The White-necked Rockfowl is somewhat misnamed as it has both a yellow neck and head but the name is presumably inspired by the Continue reading Yellow-headed Picathartes: a mystical bird
A white-crested thrush-like bird on the ground hopps about throwing leaves. The bird is a White-crested Laughingthrush (Garrulax leucolophus) and is really throwing the leaves around in all directions . They were searching intensively for food. It was a family group of eight birds. They might remind you of other birds of the family as e.g. the Grey-crowned Babbler (Pomatostomus temporalis) from Australia. They also move around in groups of eight and bounce around among the vegetation. White-crested Laughingthrush is often found scratching for food in the leaf litter. The White-crested Laughingthrush is a member of the Leiothrichidae family. It is found in forest and scrub from the Himalayan from north and north-east India, south-east Tibet, Sumatra, Myanmar, Thailand, south-west China foothills to Indochina.
The White-crested Laughingthrush is easily recognizable by its distinctive broad whitish crest, black mask, whitish underparts, rufous-chestnut upperparts and rufous flanks and undertail-coverts. It is usually seen in flocks which produce song bursts of rapid chattering and repetitive double-note phrases. It is found in a wide range of habitats, including broadleaved evergreen, semi-evergreen and dry deciduous forest, secondary growth and bamboo up to about 1,600 m asl.
The White-crested Laughingthrush has been absent from south Continue reading White-crested Laughingthrush from a hide
Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers (Dryobates minor) only rarely find a breeding ground under the flower roof of apple trees in Central Europe anymore, because there are hardly any orchards or other suitable habitats for this small woodpeckers. However, the structurally rich landscape of the Vordertaunus near Bad Soden close to Frankfurt am Main is an exception. Here still a number of breeding pairs live in old tree caves and during the breeding season, the fruit blossom provides a striking backdrop for bird photographers. The little woodpecker is perhaps the least well-known of the black-white-red woodpeckers of Europe.
In the diversity of Central European cultural landscape, this small woodpecker has lived many centuries in close proximity to humans. Here the former inhabitant of alluvial forests found optimal conditions to live. But in recent decades, its holdings in Central Europe have partly melted drastically. In some areas it is still to be found on distribution maps, but in fact it is extinct in many places or there are only residual occurrences. The culprit of his disappearance is certainly the intensive agricultural use and the associated destruction of his habitat.
The woodpecker often shares its breeding grounds with the Little Owl (Athene noctua). Here, however, the flat Lower Rhine in North Continue reading Orchards: home for the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker
The Vosges in eastern France are a very attractive tourist destination in summer time. The The Western Hazel Grouse (Bonasa bonasia rhenana) is a secretive representative of the grouse family, which has its last refuge in the Vosges. But it is also in danger in the northeast of France. Northern Wheatears (Oenanthe oenanthe), Meadow Pipits (Anthus pratensis) and Skylarks (Alauda arvensis) are certainly the most common species of birds, but some rare bird species live in the forests as well. Beside birds of the higher mountain zone one sees some interesting plants like Yellow Gentian (Gentiana lutea), Mountain arnica (Arnica montana), Alpine Pasqueflower (Pulsatilla alpina) and Mountain Pansy (Viola lutea).
Due to the difficulty of exact surveys, the decline in Western Hazel Grouse in northeastern France is described not easy. Since the 1930s, there are five to seven methodologically comparable observations. The area under consideration in the first survey is a rather continental-toned climate. The area is forested to about 33%, with a variation of 20% in arable land and up to 75% in the low mountain range. Four natural areas can be distinguished:
- The densely cultivated Champagne on the edge of the Paris Basin with 20% forest share at sea heights of 60 to 200 m.
- The zone of hills and plateaus at 100-400 (-500) m asl in the Ardennes and Lorraine with 37% forest, mainly oak and beech forest and coniferous forest.
- The up to 1,424 m high Vosges with their vegetation levels: Below 500 m, a forest cover of 44% beech oak forest with sprinkled coniferous on the wetter west side of the mountains, and mainly sessile forests on the drier east side. Tree cover has been significantly replaced by conifers on the east side. Above 500 m, forest cover with beech fir forests increases to 75%. Beyond 1,000 m there are spruce-enriched beech-fir or pure beech high-altitude forests.
- The Alsace Upper Rhine plain (100-250 m asl) with 25% forest cover, on the one hand alluvial oak-ash or riparian forests and, on the other hand, oak-beech forests on sandy areas, enriched with Scots pine.
Continue reading The Western Hazel Grouse – a bird on the edge of extinction
A clear winter day. The alders and willows along the small stream are covered with hoarfrost. Wafts of mist rise from the slow-flowing water in the cold air. But then a whistle permeates the silence, and suddenly an azure flash of lightning rushes just above the surface of the water, once more a whistle, and then it is gone again.
Later, in spring I go to the same place and I’m curious if the Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) has reoccupied its territory. When I approach the embankment, I already hear the chirping calls of two kingfishers in display. Standing behind a tree, I watch them with my binoculars. The male, recognizable by the black beak, flies off and it takes five minutes until I hear his whistle and he’s back with a little Continue reading Feeding with fish: Kingfisher´s wedding gift
Great Bittern (Botaurus stellaris) has experienced its most successful year for breeding in Great Britain in 2016. At least, an annual national survey carried out by RSPB mentioned this. This is pointed out in an article in birdguides about the breeding success in the UK.
This breeding success is welcome news for these bulky brown-streaked herons, who’ve endured a tumultuous history in Britain and Ireland. In the late 19th century Bittern had vanished from Britain. They were prized as a medieval banquet dish and consequently hunted intensively. The loss of their reedbed habitat contributed to their decline.
Bittern started to re-colonize England at the beginning of the twentieth century, but due to the continuing loss of habitat, their numbers declined from the middle of the century. By 1997, there were only 11 territorial males across the country
To mark their territory and advertise themselves to potential partners, male Bitterns make a distinctive ‘booming’ sound in the Continue reading Great Bittern back on stage in Great Britain
You could read in May several times in the media that there were fewer Common Swifts (Apus apus) and Northern House-Martins (Delichon urbica) this year than in previous years. For example, a conservation organization reported on the results of the “Stunde der Gartenvogel”, which is equivalent the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch number of these fast-flying insectivores declined by 40% less compared to 2006, when the first garden birds count (Stunde der Gartenvogel) was heralded.
But is it possible to deduce the extent of the loss of insect-eating birds from a momentary impression?
Meanwhile, both species are already longer in the country and the breeding season is almost over. Thus, the number of Common Swift has already passed its zenith again and since the beginning of August, no adult or this year’s specimens are present at some colonies in Brandenburg. House-Martins will be still present for several weeks but have bred already as well.
Thus, there are now good preconditions for answering the question Continue reading Common Swift and Northern House-Martin: a bad year in Germany?
To photograph a male Great Snipe (Gallinago media) displaying on a lek in the wide-stretched lowlands of northern Middle Europe, was the target. In a project in collaboration with scientists from Estonian University of Life Sciences is was possible to perform this task in one of the remaining habitats which used to be so typical for this species. It occurred until the 19th century in the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Finland and the lowlands of Sweden and Norway – sometimes in remarkable abundancy.
Whereas in the western parts of Middle Europe the loss and deterioration of important floodplain meadow and marshland habitat led numbers of Great Snipe decline dramatically, wide river valleys with extensive grassy meadows are still existent in the low-populated Estonia.
As mentioned, the main objective of a trip to Estonia was, to photograph the Great Snipe in its ancestral habitat, the lowlands of Continue reading Great snipe on a lek in Estonia
Most people thinking about Austria have immediately snow, mountains and hiking in mind. A very different, but extremely interesting picture, is offered for the birder in Burgenland, in the area around the lake Neusiedl. The question is, however, is a bird paradise at the same time also a photographer´s paradise? The landscape in the easternmost tip of Austria is a typical Puszta landscape with numerous, small, flat salt lakes, the so-called “Lacken”, and a big water body but only one meter deep the Lake Neusiedl (German: Neusiedler See) or Fertő. With an area of about 320 km², which is almost half covered with high reeds, it is considered to be the largest steppe lake in Europe and has a decisive influence on the climate in this area. This is very mild in this region. Temperatures in excess of 30 ° C may already prevail in May. Fortunately there is almost always a gentle breeze. Otherwise when the breeze fails, the heat becomes unbearable.
Almost all year round is tourist season. We visited Lake Neusiedler in spring and summer, as well as in autumn, and found that the months April to mid July were the most interesting for animal photography. In early summer, the meadows around Neusiedler See are transformed into a colorful flower carpet. The autumn Continue reading Waders at Lake Neusiedl
I had been very successful in the Bakossi Mountains with the Mount Kupe Bushshrike (Telophorus kupeensis) – also known as Serle’s Bushshrike. After an unsuccessful first day on an expedition in these Afrotropic mountains, my indispensable guides and me encountered a total of 7 individuals of the Mount Kupe Bushshrike until the end of the second day; including 4 sightings and 3 only heard individuals elsewhere in the forest.
The Bakossi Mountains are part of the so-called Cameroon Mountain Arc in the western country of Cameroon. Here an Afrotropic mountain vegetation prevails. In addition to the Mount Kupe Bushshrike other endemic species like e.g. Mount Cameroon Francolin (Francolinus camerunensis) and Bannerman’s Turaco (Tauraco bannermani) contribute to the wealth in biodiversity.
Overall, I spent nearly 15 minutes at the site where a pair of the Mount Kupe Bushshrike displayed a mating ritual (as described in the blog). Initially I shot with the Canon EF 400mm 1: 2.8L IS II USM from a Gitzo tripod. The frequent relocation of the Mount Kupe Bushshrike along with the unexpectedly low-level location of the bird inside the forest let me switch to the Canon EF 200mm f / 2L IS USM on the Canon EOS 5DS R. Despite exposure times of 1/160 sec. – later also with 1/80 sec. – the excellent image stabilizer allowed shots from the hand. A total of 183 pictures were shot on the occasion, of which 26 pictures were reasonably acceptable and a few were good enough. The image of the Mount Kupe Bushshrike Continue reading Mount Kupé Bushshrike – some aspects on equipment & logistics
Swifts (Apodiformes) in the family Apodidae are small birds which spend the majority of their lives flying. These birds have very short legs and never settle voluntarily on the ground, perching instead only on vertical surfaces. Many swifts have long swept-back wings which resemble a crescent or boomerang. There are 13 species occurring in Cameroon. In a Rockjumper trip to Cameroon in April 2017, swifts were encountered almost every day with Little swift (Apus affinis) and African palm-swift (Cypsiurus parvus) being by far the most common. The best shots of Swifts and Swallows during the trip you will finde in the gallery “Swift and Swallows over Sanaga River in Cameroon” .
Common Swift (Apus apus) are probably the 3rd most abundant and could be seen and photographed especially in the lowlands near the Sanaga River close to Edea in the south-west corner of Cameroon. A gallery of flying birds of Sanager river – Swallows and Swifts – show the great potential for birders and photographers.
Numbers of Common Swifts are declining throughout Europe. A third of British Swifts e.g. have been lost since 1995. But the reasons underpinning this decline are unclear. Scientists of the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO ) are involved in a project aiming to address Continue reading Swifts over Sanager River/ Cameroon
The fate of the Common Pochard is discussed intensively in the relevant forums. Scientific research suggests that the sex ratio of the populations of Common Pochard (Aythya ferina), a medium-sized diving duck, in Europe and North Africa has changed. This could play a role in the decline of the species in the Western Palearctic.
Sex ratio results have just been published in the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) Journal Wildfowl. These conclusions show that populations are becoming increasingly “masculine”. Using the data obtained in January 2016, the researchers compared counts from surveys conducted in January 1989 and January 1990 in the same region. The proportion of men in the total population was 62% in the years 1989 to 1990 and in 2016 this disparity even increased to 71%.
Interesting clues for the pochard, a bird in a sharp population descent, provides an investigation of ZIMMERMANN, H. (2010), which was published in: Brut und Mauser der Tafelente Aythya ferina im Naturschutzgebiet Fischteiche in der Lewitz (Breeding and moulting of the pochard Aythya ferina in the nature reserve fish ponds in the Lewitz) in Orn. Newsletter Meckl.-Vorp. 46: 367-373.
The fish ponds in the Lewitz are a traditional breeding and moulting area of the Common Pochard in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in Continue reading Pochard: a bird population in decline
As the name suggests high precipitation characterizes the rainforests. Photographing animals during the rain is a real challenge to people and material. But this particular weather situation gives many motifs an additional charm. An extensive downpour is always a great moment to spot birds in an extraordinary situation. But also the small representatives of the animal kingdom such as frogs, butterflies, insects are hardly to be surpassed in their diversity. A macro should therefore be part of the equipment as a good, powerful flash.
Rainforests of Peru are one of the richest in biodiversity on earth. Although the jungle is full of life, the extreme conditions make animal photography in the rainforest always a tricky. Poor lighting conditions, high humidity and a lot of rain make every photographer face a challenge.
Peru is one of the countries with the highest biodiversity and has astonishingly many endemic species as well as a remarkable variety of ecosystems. Almost 70% of the country’s surface is covered with tropical rain forest. This makes Peru one of the most interesting destinations for passionate nature photographers. Although the Continue reading Bird photography in the rainforests of Peru
Spoon-billed Sandpipers (Calidris pygmaea) are one of the big megas in birding space. This charismatic species is listed as Critically Endangered because it has already an extremely small population. Population distribution is limited for the breeding range from the Chukotsk peninsula south to Kamchatka. The bird migrates from north-eastern Russia down the western Pacific coast through Russia, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, China to its main wintering grounds in Bangladesh and Myanmar.
According to BirdLife International HKBWS volunteers found end of December 2015, at least 30 Spoon-billed Sandpipers near the Fucheng Estuary in south-west Guangdong Province. This was the highest number ever found in China during winter. At the end of January further coordinated counts in Guangdong Province, including members from the Zhanjiang Bird Watching Society and staff from the Zhanjiang Mangrove National Nature Reserve Management Bureau took place. The numbers accounted for at least 45 individuals from four locations, with Fucheng Estuary having the highest count with 38 individuals. This is an extremely significant tally, given that the world population numbers fewer than Continue reading Newly discovered wintering location for Spoon-billed Sandpiper
In the only colony in North Western Europe, in Schleswig-Holstein on the Dithmarsch Elbe estuary in the Neufeld polder, Gull-billed Terns (Gelochelidon nilotica) had a good breeding success in 2014 and about 30 breeding pairs in the colony in Neufeld / Schleswig-Holstein and the one in Lower Saxony probably get roughly 40 young birds fledge. In the last two years the Gull-billed Tern had already raised each 20-30 fledged young birds. In 2014 the first young birds from the year 2012 returned to the breeding colony. This was clearly Continue reading Ringed Gull-billed Terns on the coast of the Northern Sea
Photographing White-throated Dippers (Cinclus cinclus) in the natural habitat normally means to shoot on a black bird with partially white underparts with nesting material in the beak for the nest building. These are the classic photos that you see of dippers. They fly preferably to and from exposed spots, as stones outstanding on the water. Fast flowing, clear rivers and streams have become rare in all over Europe due to the increasing changes in the landscape and the pollution in our latitudes.
But if you find such a river or a stream, you might be lucky to watch a bird which is not really striking in terms of appearance and plumage coloration. The life – however – is so unique that it has a special place among our native songbirds. It is the White-throated Dipper (Cinclus cinclus). Almost the size of a Common Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) it shows a short-tailed, plump, dark brown body with a white throat.
The main food White-throated Dippers lingering year-round in its breeding habitat provide water insects, especially mayflies and caddisflies (Trichoptera). White-throated Dippers hunt them at the bottom of a shallow river or stream. To gain access to this food source, White-throated Dippers dive underwater or run on the bottom of a river. They can swim Continue reading Dippers – photography along streams and rivers
Dancing Great Bustard (Otis tarda) at dawn. That must be a great photo project. The courtship is an incredible spectacle. The male Great Bustard transforms himself into a large, white ball of feathers. To do so, he turns the brown, patterned flight feathers out so that the white underside and the white feathers of the elbow face upwards. Than the tail flips up to the back and shows only the white down feathers. On a morning in mid March everything seems perfect. After a period of bad weather, it had cleared the day before and the weather forecast had announced freezing temperatures. When I left early in the morning, the sky was filled with stars. Not a cloud covered the sky and of the temperatures were in the minus degrees – as promised. One of the areas for the Great Bustard is a good half hour away from the my home town. The morning sun had cast a strip on the eastern horizon Continue reading Photo Project: Dancing Great Bustard in Germany
Almost everyone probably knows the warbling of this tireless champions of the songs in the sky. It is such a welcome sign of spring, that we all must look up in the sky involuntarily and have a look after the singer. That’s not that simple. And how many of us have seen recently larks in the last years. Besides the frequent Skylarks (Alauda arvensis) you might see Woodlarks (Lullula arborea) in Germany and – becoming more and more rare – sometimes Crested Larks (Galerida cristata), too.
To observe their behavior close-up is difficult because all larks are characterized by a modest plumage. The gray-brownish color allows the birds mainly reside on the ground while remaining almost undetected. On the ground, these songbirds are quiet. Only with the flight Continue reading The Woodlark – a welcome sign for spring
Early morning, 5:30 am. After a coffee in front of the small chalets, we will start for the first full day Malawi expedition. The typical east-african birds are our main interest. At 4:30 we have got up already. The starry sky promise a nice day. Great atmosphere. In the background the last lights of stars and to the east the very first morning light. Still in almost dark we walk to the car. And right in the beginning: the Birds are good. I start the engine of the Landrover, switch on the headlight and… startle a bird in headlight cone right in front of the car surrounded by pitch-black darkness. The bird stands still, obviously dazzled with our headlamps. A small, grey-brown Quail (or something like this) just sits on the ground. We get out of the car and try to dazzle the bird additionally with a hunting spotlight. But this is too much. The bird flies away. But we find it back. The students are very excited and try to encircle the bird. I follow them with the camera and a flash. Yes, the images reveal a male Small Buttonquail of the sub-Saharan African subspecies epurana. It is called Kurrichane Buttonquail in Continue reading Small Buttonquail (Turnix sylvaticus) for WP-portfolio
Morocco, one of the northernmost countries of Africa is a top tourist destination. Morocco is situated in the northwest corner of Africa and is basically an African country with a large Mediterranean region along the coast. Additionally Morocco might not sound like a birdwatcher’s paradise but, Morocco offers surprisingly good birding in various habitats. Morocco is one of the favorite destinations for birders in search of endangered or rare species of the Palearctic. Many birds are generally endangered and rare or are species which are rare in Palearctic because their main distribution is mainly in the core lands of Africa. Anyway, birds such as Bald Ibis (Geronticus calvus), Eleonora’s Falcon (Falco eleonorae), Marsh Owl (Asio capensis), Levaillant’s Woodpecker (Picus vaillantii), Black-crowned Tchagra (Tchagra senegalus), Dupont’s Lark (Chersophilus duponti), African Desert Warbler (Sylvia deserti), Moussier’s Redstart (Phoenicurus moussieri) and the Desert Sparrow (Passer simplex) are a real must for the keen birder.
Morocco offers sandy deserts of the Sahara, high mountains of the Atlas mountain chain and coastal strips along the Atlantic. The most exotic part is certainly the Sahara Continue reading Desert Sparrows in Morocco
A sunny morning, clear sky, the air filled with songs of birds, a steppe-style open county area with excellent outlooks, riparian woods. This could be a morning in the Weilbacher Kiesgrube. The area 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. In a smaller part of the pits, the area was filled again and a park was created. In other parts the pits were not filled. Instead, this area has been designated as a nature reserve. From small watchtowers, visitors Continue reading Weilbacher Kiesgrube, a birding paradise near Frankfurt
Frankfurt Airport (FRA) is the gateway to continental Europe. Many airlines use the Airport as a hub for connecting flights all over the world. If you have spare time between two flight and you are a birdwatcher, you might be interested to know, where you can find good places to stretch your legs, enjoy fresh air and enjoy birding for typical european birds.
One of these sites is the best riparian forest 60 km south of Frankfurt, called Kuhkopf or in Continue reading Birding around Frankfurt Airport – Kuehkopf-Knoblochsaue