Great Grey Owl, Strix nebulosa, in Finland

Great Grey Owl low over snowDuring a workshop near the northern part of the Baltic sea in Finland from 5th – 8th of April 2013 these excellent images of a hunting Great Grey Owl were shot.

Wow, what an excellent bird. Just imagine, like this bird is sitting in a tall tree or on a barn roof concentrating to hunt on a vole on the floor which is 100 – 300 meters distant under 20 – 30 cm thick, insulating snow. This in spite of all kinds of ambient noise in the surroundings.

The Great Grey Owl, which we – the participants of the workshop – were able so observe and photograph on several mornings. This would by no means apply to all owls in that area. I guess we have been lucky now in early April. Most of other workshops run by Finnature – a tour operator from Oulu – take place in January/February for a period of 2 – 4 days. Since these owls do not accept feeding with dead mice, you are dependent on the mercy of the right places / times.

Not at least for aesthetic reasons photographing the hunting of voles in the winter landscape with a mix of forest and meadows is the best. Nevertheless, there is no guarantee of photographic results. The most important is, to locate the right place (and the right owl), then to find the owl in the landscape, then to be a patient person who can stand it – sometimes for 1 hour – at -10 ° Celsius to stand in the snow and hope that this bird is hungry enough for hunting. There is no time to waste, Great Grey Owls are nomadic Continue reading Great Grey Owl, Strix nebulosa, in Finland

Kumlien’s Gull (Larus glaucoides kumlieni) on Varanger, Norway

Kumlien's Gull (Larus glaucoides kumlieni)Kumlien's Gull (Larus glaucoides kumlieni)

During observations to the northern part of Norway from February 28th – 3rd of march 2013 I shot images of a very pale gull, what I thought at that time was a regular adult Iceland gull. But I showed the image – more by accident – in the BirdForum and one of the experts asked for more pics of that bird to verify if the seemingly dark grey outer webs of P9-10 are real or just a light effect. I send the images and now they think it is a Kumlien’s Gull (Larus glaucoides kumlieni).

Kumlien’s Gull is a large gull which breeds in the Arctic regions far west of Varanger. The main breeding sites are in Canada. But Kumlien’s Gull is migratory, wintering from Labrador west across the Great Lakes and south to New England There are some observations outside that range. Thus the bird is quite a regular vagrant in small numbers to Scandinavia, Great Britain,  Ireland and the Atlantic islands. So there was one observation in January 2012 near Trondheim, Norway or in February 2009 on Madeira. According to http://madeira.seawatching.net/articles/Kumliens_2009_Madeira.pdf there has been an unprecedented influx of Kumliens Gulls into Southern Europe in the early part of 2009. Numbers involved are difficult to gauge but as many as ten could have been recorded in Spain where previously only two birds had been recorded before. Others were recorded in Belgium and Portugal, with a single adult also seen on the Azores.

The reason for this influx is Continue reading Kumlien’s Gull (Larus glaucoides kumlieni) on Varanger, Norway

Steller’s Eider female on Baltic Sea of Germany

Steller's Eider in snowstormToday a female Steller’s Eider, Polysticta stelleri, has been recorded north of the Holnisspitze, which is a peninsula north-east of a town in Schleswig-Holstein named Gluecksburg. After a run in the last days to the one individual of a male King Eider, Somateria spectabilis, at Kalkhorst at the shores of the Baltic Sea, this is the second mega duck in a short time, which can be seen at the shores of the Baltic Sea in Germany. The female Steller’s Eider was observed the first time by Katrin Habenicht and photographed with some nice shots (including a nice starting/ flying shot). The Eider can be seen in the northern extension of the Holnisser ferry road (Faehrstraße). The duck swims between other ducks (Eurasian Wigeon and Common Eider) present in the same area.

The Holnis peninsula, which is a nature reserve is approx. 15km distance east of Flensburg, which is connected to the rest of the world via Highway (Autobahn) 7. Holnis peninsula marks the northernmost point of the German mainland. The area extends for a distance of 6 km into a fjord – the so-called Flensburger Foerde – and is a reknown pastime area of Gluecksburg. On the peninsula there is a cliff and a salt marsh with a major nesting colony of seabirds.

This female Steller’s Eider is obviously only Continue reading Steller’s Eider female on Baltic Sea of Germany

Male King Eider on Baltic Sea of Germany

King Eider - maleDuring the last days one male King Eider, Somateria spectabilis, continues to stay at Kalkhorst at the shores of the Baltic Sea. The german sea resort is approx. 15km distance east of Travemünde, Lübeck. This male King Eider in beautiful breeding plumage is obviously only one of the few records for 2013 so far south for the Western Palearctic and has been observed from the beach of Kalkhorst.

In contrast these birds are very common in the north of the Western Palearctic. On Varanger/ Norway bird-lens.com was able to shot this nice pictures right from a floating hide in the middle of the harbor. Not King Eiders alone, but also Steller’s Eider (Polysticta stelleri) and Long-tailed Duck (Clangula hyemalis) and many gulls in 5 different species. A selection of the best shots you can find here in the gallery!

The Bird on the Baltic Sea could be seen yesterday from Continue reading Male King Eider on Baltic Sea of Germany

Heavy migration of Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos) through the Taunus/ Germany

Song ThrushDuring a short trip with sunny weather and quite clear sky but a cold wind in the morning of March 26th through the upper Taunus near Bad Soden I experienced many migrating birds among them approx. 50 Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos) and more than a 100 Chaffinches (Fringilla coelebs).  Remarkable in the sighting of the Chaffinches was the gender relationship which was very much in favor of the males – all in beautiful breeding plumage.

Remarkable with the Song Thrushes were the sheer numbers observed. They tried to conceal among dry grass or clods to take food. All this was complicated by the tight chokes for wind, which the thrushes also tried to avoid. Eventually, using the car as a moving hide, a smaller flock of Song Thrushes could be seen in perfect light showing their typical arrow-markings on the belly.

There are other recent sightings Continue reading Heavy migration of Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos) through the Taunus/ Germany

Emergency landing for lapwings

Northern LapwingShorebirds as the Northern Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus), are heavily suffering from the return of winter. The return of the winter in the past two weeks with temperatures down to minus two-digit nummbers also in the western part of Germany is devastating for waders. Due to observations of the Hessischen Gesellschaft für Ornithologie und Naturschutz (HG ON) [engl.: Hessian Society for Ornithology and Nature Conservation] in the Main-Kinzig district especially many Northern Lapwings on route from the wintering areas in Africa and southern Europe to their breeding grounds in the north were forced for ​​an emergency landing. This in search of food and to protect from snow and cold temperatures.

In this situation one can observe to the phenomenon Continue reading Emergency landing for lapwings

Migratory birds herald spring

Common Cranes flying overLast weekend, you could observe heavy traffic in the skies over Frankfurt/ Germany. Although winter is not ready to lower its grip the first returning migrants already point to the imminent end of the cold season. In recent weeks, Eurasian Skylarks  (Alauda arvensis), and Northern Lapwings (Vanellus vanellus), were seen already on their return. Particularly striking are currently the Common Cranes  (Grus grus) flying in wedge-shaped formations over western Germany.  On the 9th of march you could see at least 30 individuals over the outskirts of Kelkheim/ Main-Taunus-Kreis. The southern slopes of the Taunus are one of the pathways of the western migration corridor of these tall, slender birds before they are heading further north of the Wetterau

For the Bay of Cologne, which is 200km further north located, the long-term statistical average is between 5th and 13th of March. What this mean in terms of quantity you can see by the fact that highest count in crane observation was made by the NABU Aachen (further to the west), who observed more than 8,000 cranes in the region between that time period (5th and 13th of March in 1991).

The birds spend the winter mainly in sunny Spain or France. Their main wintering area is located in the Extremadura in western Spain. There, the cranes in the clear Mediterranean oak forests searched for the fruits of holm and cork oaks. On the way back to their breeding grounds, the cranes Germany crossed on quite a narrow corridor toward the southern shores of the Baltic sea in the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.
But there are even more flocks of birds expected in the coming weeks: Blackcaps (Sylvia atricapilla), Continue reading Migratory birds herald spring

Snowy surprise for Cranes & Geese in nature reserve Kuehkopf-Knoblochsaue in Germany

Tundra Bean Goose

Although the winter’s chill hold finally broke last week the wintertime is not over, already. The mild conditions and temperatures of up to around 8 degrees did not last for a long time. By 19th a Scandinavian high pressure was fully in charge and a strengthening easterly flow and increasing cloud cover ensured that temperatures were soon heading all the way back down again.

Not only the common songbirds responded well to the rapidly lengthening days and the suddenly mild conditions but also the first returning cranes. But these are early days indeed for spring migrants.

So it was quite a surprise to find at least 7 Common Crane (Grus grus) on an open field in the mist of the snow in the northern part of the nice Nature Reserve One called Knoblochaue. Together with its sister reserve Kuehkopf this reserve is famous for being the best riparian forest location not too far south of Frankfurt. The nature reserve (in german: Naturschutzgebiet or NSG) is a European Reserve und an excellent birding spot year-round.

As nice images of the Bean Goose of the (Sub-)species Tundra Bean Goose (Anser (fabalis) serrirostris), were still missing on bird-lens.com, I decided to visit the meadows on the northern side of the reserve called Continue reading Snowy surprise for Cranes & Geese in nature reserve Kuehkopf-Knoblochsaue in Germany

Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis) at Laguna Gallocanta/ Spain

Sandhill CraneDuring the last days one Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis) continues to stay at the Laguna Gallocanta in the south-western part of Aragon, Spain. This bird is obviously only the 3rd record for Spain since 2009 although there are more observations from the northern part of the Western Palearctic. The Sandhill Crane is present at least since last Sunday, February 24th 2013 but with wintering European Cranes (Grus grus) numbering 35,000 individuals now at the site and occasionally severe snowfall to find the bird in the crowd is a real challenge for the travelling twitchers, who arrived already in good numbers.  Updates and pictures from the site of the twitch you see here.

The Laguna de Gallocanta is one of the largest lakes in Spain – obviously the largest natural lake in Spain covering around 1,500 ha of open water within a total area of almost 7,000 ha. The lake is fed mainly by rainwater, giving rise to dramatic changes in water level from year to year. In wet years the lake can be vast while in dry years during the hot summers the lake dries out completely. As the lake is at an altitude of 1000 m there can be some very low temperatures in winter. The water of the lake is saline but freshwater springs allow for localized patches of reeds and reedmace.

The lake is one of the most important bird sites in Spain. Common Cranes that breed in Fennoscandia and the Baltic states take the west European migration route to their wintering grounds. lt is supposed that the total number of birds migrating along this route is now in the order of 70,000, and most of these, some 50,000-60,000, winter mainly in Spain, with smaller numbers in Portugal. Thus the lagoon is the largest wintering area of the European/ Eurasian cranes. The number of cranes showed a maximum of 35,000 in recent years. The lagoon is subject to the Ramsar Convention since 1995 and is also a National Nature Reserve.

In his „Handbuch der Vögel Mitteleuropas“, Band 5 „Galliformes und Gruiformes “ Urs N. Glutz von Blotzheim does not mention the Sandhill Crane for Middle Europe.

To cope with the growing demand Continue reading Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis) at Laguna Gallocanta/ Spain

Common Buzzard at the bait in wintertime

Common BuzzardTo observe and photograph Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo) at the bait in wintertime in good numbers  – sometimes 8 individuals on one occasion. Is this possilbe right in the center of a heavy industrialized country like Germany? Yes, it is!

The valley of the river „Leine“ and the surrounding hills called “Leinebergland” is not famous of being one of Germany´s birding hot spots. But in wintertime the charming countryside between the cities of Hildesheim to the east and Hameln to the west is invaded by keen birdwatchers and bird photographers to shoot images of Common Buzzards and other excellent birds on a winter feeding site.

Having been spend one day on invitation of Wolf-Dieter Peest has been very productive – as you can see in the gallery. Wolf-Dieter offers Wildlife Workshops but also the chance to sit in one (or more) of his hides located on ponds, small streams or at the border of agricultural fields. The Leinebergland 30 km south of the city of Hannover, with its many gravel pits, is a paradise for nature photographers. In the early 70s many gravel mining pits were built along the line between Hanover and Göttingen. Having exploited these areas, the remaining ponds and lakes are now on the way back to nature again and offer a new habitat to a huge number of animal and plant species. Many of these ponds are real paradises for nature lovers and the nature- of course. A description of the locations written in german, you will find here!
Wolf-Dieter managed to lease a good number of attractive properties over the last 15 years. There are ideal conditions for a photographic passion Continue reading Common Buzzard at the bait in wintertime

Great Grey Shrike, Lanius excubitor in the Hochtaunus near Frankfurt

Northern ShrikeDuring a short trip to a hiking site near my hometown in the Hochtaunus just 25km from downtown Frankfurt I could observe a beautiful Great Grey Shrike, Lanius excubitor. This Northern Shrike could be seen in perfect light in the afternoon of the 20th of February in an area called Viehweide (cattle pasture) northwest of the small village Schloßborn near both to the highest peak of the Taunus, the Grosser Feldberg, and the fashionable town of Koenigstein im Taunus.

The bird was already observed by Eleonore Gothe on the 18th of February.

This was my first sighting for this winter in the Taunus. One of the last Great Grey Shrikes I could see was on Helgoland in the Suedhafen area last October.

In his „Handbuch der Vögel Mitteleuropas“, Band 13/II „Passeriformes, Sittidae – Laniidae“ Urs N. Glutz von Blotzheim mentioned that migration of the Great Grey Shrike, Lanius excubitor, (also called Northern Shrike), back to breeding grounds has been reported between mid of February until beginning of April with peaks in March. In so far the observation could still fit for a wintering ground observation or a sighting during migration.

Remarkably otherwise there were 8 Ravens (Corvus corax) and at least 5 Red Kites (Milvus milvus). Although Red Kites breed in the Taunus and these Kites seem to stay and feed in the area, they will probably go further north in the near future. The german Birdnet is full with migration counts of Red Kites – sometimes in good numbers (as 37 individuals migrating in north-eastern direction in the Landkreis Waldeck-Frankenberg in northern Hesse).
Moreover, 8 Eurasian Buzzards (Buteo buteo) could be seen. Very interesting to see 5 Common Buzzard with 2 Kites trying to Continue reading Great Grey Shrike, Lanius excubitor in the Hochtaunus near Frankfurt

Birding around Frankfurt Airport – Schwanheimer Duene

Eurasian Golden-OrioleThere are not too many foreign birdwatchers coming to the middle of Germany for just birding. But 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 places is only 15 minutes away from the Frankfurt Airport. This is the Schwanheimer Duene (Dunes of Schwanheim) located in a southern outskirt of Frankfurt. In so far, the area is more or less the same distance than the Langener Waldseen. But whereas these lakes, situated just 2 km east of the runway of Frankfurt AP, are a highly frequented recreation area in summertime, the Schwanheimer Duene is especially good in spring and summer. Thus an excellent alternative to the Langener Waldseen which are very productive in wintertime.

The Schwanheimer Duene is one of the few inland dunes in Europe. It was established after the last ice age of sands that have been blown out of the riverbed of the River Main. Then, a forest grew on it. In the last century farmers cleared the forest and put on cherry meadows. Several dry periods ended these attempts in the second half of the 19th Century. The dune devasted and started to wander. Between 1882 and 1890 the dune moved aground to its present location.

Following the desolation a  typical plant community of inland dune developed, which can be encountered up to nowadays. This plant community is called Continue reading Birding around Frankfurt Airport – Schwanheimer Duene

Images of birds for science & public; Western Palaearctic & the World