Category Archives: Where to watch birds

Anhingas in Florida

SchlangenhalsvogelThe ditch along the visitor’s trail is teeming with fish. Suddenly a sharp, dart-like beak emerges out of the water right in front of us. It is followed by a long piece of neck. Like a snake, Anhingas – the snakebird – (Anhinga anhinga) glides silently through the water. Its water-permeable plumage reduces the buoyancy that occurs during diving and suppresses any rippling. For a while we see the slender bird body still sliding underneath us through the fairly clear water. Now it’s time to take care. Far more spectacular than Cormorants (Phalacrocorax carbo) they fish under water. Anhingas use their pointed beak like a harpoon. The long neck, which is bent back in an S-shape before being impacted works like a taut feather and allows lightning-fast fishing under water. The Anhinga Trail in Florida’s Everglades offers ideal conditions to observe these black fish hunters. They harpoon the fish by piercing it with their closed beak. Then they look for a gnarled branch on the shore. Now the photographer has to react quickly. A special behavior follows a most interesting ritual. Anhingas try to free themselves from the pierced fish, in order to finally be able to swallow it. It often throws the prey into the air with impetus before catching him and finally devouring him. A little later, one can expect the Anhinga to spread its wings and let it dry itself from the sun.

With every drop of water that the sun draws from the wet plumage, the bird becomes more beautiful, especially if it is a male. If one then discovers one in the breeding dress, you can only hope that it sits as close as possible to the trail. Then it is possible to capture the bright Continue reading Anhingas in Florida

Birding in the Marañon valley

TaczanowskikolibriThe Spot-throated Hummingbird (Leucippus taczanowski) is one of the (almost) endemic birds in the Marañon valley and one of the top finds for an excursion in this remote  northeastern part of Peru. The of the Hummingbird´s underparts are cream or very light gray and there are small glittering spots on the chest and throat. The Spot-throated Hummingbird looks similar to the Tumbes Hummingbird (Leucippus baeri), but this species is limited to the lower elevations on the Pacific slope in the extreme northwest of Peru. These two species generally replace each other and are not syntopic. The Tumbes Hummingbird is smaller than the Spot-throated Hummingbird and has a simple (unspotted) throat. If you want to see a Spot-throated Hummingbird singing in the wild, you have to prepare for a trip to the Marañon valley.

Coming the way from the small town of Chamaya in the wider area of ​​the Maranon Valley, I went for Bagua Grande along the Rio Utcubamba – a tributary of the Río Marañon. I am supposed to go to Pedro Ruiz through a very impressive cactus area. At a natural site of vegetation along the river I was lucky with the sighting of the Spot-throated Hummingbird.

There are two recommended starting points for exploring the bird watching areas in the Marañon Valley. The one is from the north, from Jaen and the other from Celendín in the south. Celendín is only 105 km from the capital of the province of the same name, Cajamarca. The trip from Cajamarca to Celendín can be completed Continue reading Birding in the Marañon valley

Huet-huet: observation in Patagonia

Patagonia is a country of contrasts. Patagonia, the storm-swept south end of the South American continent, does not only captivate nature photographers. The further south you go and the narrower the continent, the wider and more endless the landscape seems to become. Suddenly, rugged mountains protrude from the plain like fangs. Scraps of cloud hunt across the sky.

The way from El Chalten to Lago Desierto is pure Patagonia. When you arrive at Lake Desierto, an impressive panorama opens up. We do not hesitate to take a long walk. It goes along the north bank section of Lake Desierto. The path along the lake is little more than a path along the water. To do this we have to cross a very adventurous suspension bridge. The path passes hill and dale. But at some point I almost go crazy. Wow, that’s a Black-throated Huet-huet (Pteroptochos tarnii) also just called Huet-huet for short. It just stands in front of us and then runs a few meters without any fear. Stays and scratches with his feet in the loose forest earth. I can’t keep up with my camera, which I finished in no time. The Nikon 2.8/ 300 lens with the Metz Blitz MZ-1i may not be the right choice. Again and again I have to go to the Huet-huet and chase it back away because the close-up limit has been undershot. The bird doesn’t take it from me. There must be a particularly productive spot on the forest floor. The Black-throated Huet-huet keeps coming back to the Continue reading Huet-huet: observation in Patagonia

Extremadura, a paradise for birders

WiesenweiheThe steppes and extensive dehesas of Caceres and Trujillo are famous for their steppe bird life. Short-toed Eagle (Circaetus gallicus), Montagu’s Harrier (Circus pygargus), Lesser Kestrel (Falco naumanni), Little Bustard (Tetrax tetrax), Great Bustard (Otis tarda), Eurasian Thick-knee (Burhinus oedicnemus), Pin-tailed Sandgrouse (Pterocles alchata), Black-bellied Sandgrouse (Pterocles orientalis), Azure-winged Magpie (Cyanopica cyana) and Calandra Lark (Melanocorypha calandra) share the fruits of the holm oak with the black Iberian domestic pigs. Many birds that have rarely or completely disappeared in the rest of Europe can still be observed very well in this almost deserted area.

The Extremadura in southwestern Spain has always been a magical attraction for nature lovers. Nowhere else in Europe you can find a higher biodiversity of plants and especially birds. A particularly large number of birds of prey circle in the thermals above the mountain ranges and plains, which are covered with evergreen oak and cork oaks and are particularly reminiscent of the African savannah in summer. Over 80,000 Common Crane (Grus grus) spend the winter Continue reading Extremadura, a paradise for birders

Visiting Skomer Island for Puffins

PapageitaucherIt is cool and cloudy when I am in Martin’s Haven in the morning. This is where the ferries leave for Skomer Island.

The boat to Skomer Island departs from Martin’s Haven, a small bay that can be reached by car in a few minutes from Marloes in western Wales. The ferry will normally transfer to Skomer Island at 10:00 am, 11:00 am and 12:00 am. There are about 40 people on the boat. Therefore, the number of visitors is limited to about 120 per day. My pension owner said that the rush can be very large and you should be there 1 hour before the ticket sale begins. On that day, however, the rush was not so great because the weather was not very good. When I arrived there shortly after 8:00 am, I was actually the first one, but soon some people arrived. It was still not clear if the ferry would go at all. At some point, the ticket sales were then unlocked, but on demand we were only told that is not decided whether the ferry leaves or whether the captain will decide on the spot. The captain would not arrive until 9:00 am.

There were more and more people, but fortunately I was in the lead in the queue and did not have to worry about not getting a ticket if the ferry only went once this time. After a long, anxious wait, the captain finally arrived and decided that the ferry would leave. It was a bit of a miracle for me as it stormed just like the days before and the weather forecast also announced a storm for the rest of the week and I was not very confident to get to Skomer Island at all.

The ferry is quite small and I did not think that actually 40 people fit on it and it got pretty tight, especially since a lot of the people had big backpacks with photo equipment. The crossing takes about 20 minutes, and the waves, which looked rather harmless from the land, showed significantly larger when on the ship. It reminded me Continue reading Visiting Skomer Island for Puffins

Young Nightingale in the countryside of Brandenburg

NachtigallLaterally, the warm first sunlight falls on the exposed hedge. A fence post stands picturesquely in front of it. For a long time, I look out of a hide at the place illuminated with the rise of the sun. The hedgerow is still in the shade. Suddenly, there is a grey-brownish bird standing on a branch in the shadow of the hedge in the middle of the Niederer Fläming. The yellow bordered bill and an obviously not yet pronounced cheek feathering could point to a young bird. I am undecided. The bird looks slim and really striking is the chestnut brown, long tail. The creamy-white bottom is striking as well. The most common bird in this oasis in the midst of the agricultural steppe is the Eurasian Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus); immediately after comes the Greater Whitethroat (Sylvia communis). But this bird belongs in another family. Quickly I think of a young Common Nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos), but I also do not want to exclude a young Bluethroat (Luscinia svecica) first. But a little later I really see a small thrush exposed on a haystack. Striking is a dark beard in a white throat. In addition there is a dirty grey chest drawing. Yes, that is definitely a young Bluethroat. It looks very different from the grey-brownish bird. Slimmer and bigger. It is indeed a Common Nightingale.

First, the bird is still covered by branches and leaves. But then it sits free in the hedge. It is obviously keen to inspect the fence post. Finally, the young bird from the hedge flies to the stake, secures the Continue reading Young Nightingale in the countryside of Brandenburg

Photographing European Bee-eater: How and Where

BienenfresserA thin branch in the most beautiful evening light and on it a European Bee-eater (Merops apiaster). This is an image many nature photographers want to shoot. This raises the question of course of what the Bee-eater’s habits and preferences are. If you take a closer look at Bee-eater photography, you ask yourself e.g. how a favorite habitat must look like, what a perfect breeding site must be like and which season is suitable at all.

Part of the solution to the problem is already solved by the food spectrum of the magnificent bird. Merops apiaster live a very flight-intensive life and feed exclusively on big  insects. The bird is specialized in the hunting of large and medium-sized flying insects. Bees, wasps, bumblebees, beetles, dragonflies and butterflies are among their main prey. In this respect, you will find more European Bee-eater where these main prey insects are found in large numbers. Furthermore, the Bee-eater is dependent on a warm climate due to its food source.

In order to be able to hunt the flying insects efficiently, European Bee-eaters need a “perch”, an elevated stig, from which it can start to hunt. Birds’ habitats therefore always include old trees with bare branches or tall shrubs. Continue reading Photographing European Bee-eater: How and Where

Great Crested Grebe in breeding season

HaubentaucherA Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus) sits upright on its nest and hatches the cubs. Elegant feathers adorn the head on the long, thin neck.

At the beginning of spring, harsh screams came from the reeds. On silent days one could hear the deep cries far over the smooth water of the lake. A couple of Great Crested Grebes had settled on the edge of the lake.

At the end of February / beginning of March, at the courtship time of the grebes, there is a busy time on the lake. The males argue loudly about their territories. In courtship, males and females face chest to breast, shake their headdress, present each other nesting material and align themselves with each other with lowered beaks. Early in the morning at dawn, the spectacle begins and only after the sun has set, action calms down at the lake.

Once a couple has found each other, they start to build a nest that they either hide in the reeds or in the middle of the water. For several days they build together on the floating raft of reeds, leaves and water lilies. They then eagerly haul plant material and swim up Continue reading Great Crested Grebe in breeding season

Photographing Rock Ptarmigans in winter

AlpenschneehuhnRock Ptarmigans (Lagopus muta) are always high on the wish lists of birders and photographers visiting Scandinavia in winter. Finding Ptarmigan is one thing, but knowing where to photograph them is another challenge. It took me several trips between March and May to see and photograph Ptarmigan. Definitely  are my favourite bird.

You have to go out to the north or up to the Alps to see a Ptarmigan in Europe. Rock Ptarmigans rarely venture down from the highest mountains, they do not come to feeding stations and there are no comfortable hides with flushing toilets to sit in and wait. You have to go and experience their habitat and their conditions in order to spend time with these fabulous birds. You must enter their domain. What is striking is how uncomfortable this can still be even on the best days in some winters.

Only rarely you might be lucky on a Ski parking lot in the Alps. After high winds and heavy snow in winter, Ptarmigan can be seen from the car park. They are very much hit and miss, however, and a good scope is normally required. Not to get bored, there are normally some White-winged Snowfinch (Montifringilla nivalis) hanging Continue reading Photographing Rock Ptarmigans in winter

Forbes’s Plover in Mole National Park

ForbesregenpfeiferIt is incredibly hot. If you would leave the air-conditioned bus, you will be attacked by extremely annoying bees. But: we are looking for the Forbes’s Plover (Charadrius forbesi).

The Forbes’s Plover has to be found now. We drive to a flat area in the middle of the dry savannah of northern Ghana, which is probably flooded during the rainy season. As the guide explains, these places are not overgrown in the dry season. We are lucky. Just when we appear in the area we recognize a Forbes’s Plover. The excitement is great.

Two black breastbands and a red eyering are the key features of the Forbes’s Plover. On first sight it only slightly resembles a Three -banded Plover or Three-banded Sandplover (Charadrius tricollaris). The habit is definitely different. Additionally the Forbes’s Plover is larger, with darker upperparts; darker, browner head and a dark brown bill with red at base of lower mandible.

Our guides mention that we should take pictures from the bus. The Plovers would otherwise disappear. So everyone gets up and tears open the windows or pull them aside with force. With some it remains with the attempt. Since the windows overlap, an open window for one is a double-closed window for the other. So, after a while, all travelers have to see that they can shoot their photos from just a few windows. The Forbes’s Plovers, however, prove to be quite frugal. We see at least 4 specimens, although it is not clear whether they are pairs or individuals defending their territories. As sexes are alike, you do not see the gender. In any case, it is interesting that we had already visited the area the day before, and Continue reading Forbes’s Plover in Mole National Park

Birding Berlin: Ducks in winter in Charlottenburg Palace

A splash drops of water, a wild tumult. Just a moment ago the two male Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) had been standing side by side on the ice-plate. Now they quarrel like crazy. Diving, swimming, fluttering and finally escaping, they obviously let their aggression run wild. Most of the short but intense fights end with the fact that one of the males gets through and drives his rival away with a bite in the tail. The defeated duck flies a short distance; and after a few minutes they are together again on the ice – as if nothing had happened. Since the winter temperatures are now also noticeable in the middle of Berlin, large areas of the large ornamental pond – the Karpfenteich (i.e. carp pond) – are covered in ice in the western part of the park in Charlottenburg Palace Park. Only a small part, located in close proximity to the tributary to the river Spree, has remained an open water surface, which is the center of attraction for many waterfowl such as Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra) and Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula). Goosanders (Mergus merganser) are also well represented. Even a male Northern Pintail (Anas acuta) appeared, but it looked quite pale, suggesting an escaped ornamental bird or a hybrid. Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) is standing on the shore quite close to the trails in the park. The ornamental park in the middle of the city of Berlin is a very special bird paradise. Partly natural water surfaces form a beautiful combination with the more than 100 years old thick Beeches and Oaks. For managed parks, the park has an amazing amount of old wood.

Birding parks in big cities are often surprisingly good. Berlin is a great place to combine a city trip with a birding excursion. A U-bahn ticket for the trip to Sophie-Charlotte Platz is cheap. From here it is only a short walk along Schlossstrasse to the Charlottenburg Palace. The extensive gardens here are home for many bird species, Continue reading Birding Berlin: Ducks in winter in Charlottenburg Palace

Steppe habitat just outside Castilla de la Mancha

The Spanish province of Valencia was visited in summer. One reason was to relax for a week. The second argument was to get a feel for avian delights of an area of the country normally thought of in mainstream tourism terms. As a habitual visitor to the more well-known birding destination of Andalucía and Portugal, I wasn’t expecting too much but was enjoyably surprised by the numbers and variety of Valencia’s avian inhabitants. One day I headed for the steppe habitat just outside Castilla de la Mancha. This area is blessed with an incredibly diverse range of habitats and excellent birding sites.

A stop at the tiny Bonete Municipal Cemetery en route meant we could search a small lake and a few trees, giving us great intimate views of Egyptian Vulture (Neophron pernocterus), Black-eared Wheatear (Oenanthe hispanica), Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula), a lonesome Red-crested Pochard (Netta rufina) and – best of all – a yellow-and-black male Eurasian Golden Oriole (Oriolus oriolus). European Bee-eaters (Merops apiaster) are common in these lowland Continue reading Steppe habitat just outside Castilla de la Mancha