Birds of heath in Brandenburg

Northern ShrikeBrandenburg, one of the new federal states is much more influenced by continental climate than the western parts of the country like e.g. Frankfurt am Main. Moreover, this state is not very densely populated at the Polish border. A good reason to call some parts of the country a birds and birders paradise. Breeding pairs of the rare Great Grey Shrike (Lanius excubitor) live here in the East in a good number The Shrike – also called the Northern Shrike – was the main reason for a trip to the east at the end of June. Now the Great Grey Shrikes have largely reared their brood and now take care of the (almost) fledglings. A disturbance of breeding is thus excluded. The feeding phase for the young should therefore be photographed.

Especially in summer I often used go and photograph to the military training areas near Cologne, in particular at the Wahner Heide. The military training areas Reicherskreuzer Heide (Heath) and Lieberose Heide were unknown to me until then and should now be visited intensively for the first time. Actually what I was looking for were the Great Grey Shrikes and the Eurasian Nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus). Besides the birds which could be seen in roughly one week,  it was delighting to see the multitude of butterflies. In addition to large quantities of moths and butterflies like the Marbled White (Melanargia galathea) were tons of Calliptamus italic, a species of short-horned grasshoppers and Small Gold Grasshoppers (Euthystira brachyptera) that you can rarely see anywhere else like this.

The weather forecast was perfect and everywhere there were numerous motives. So I took advantage of every free minute in the morning to be outside. The Lieberoser Heath showed up with the promised Great Grey Shrikes, many Eurasian Nightjar and several Eurasian Hoopoes (Upupa epops) at their best. But also the forest with its fresh green oaks on the edge of the military training areas were explored. Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) and Black Woodpecker (Dryocopus martius), Nuthatch (Sitta europaea), Pied Flycatcher (Ficedula hypoleuca) and maybe even the Red-breasted Flycatcher (Ficedula parva) are possible to observe there. Unfortunately, the yield was low in the middle of the woods. The edge of the forest was much better – with the constantly calling Eurasian Golden-Oriole (Oriolus oriolus) and also the many Cuckoos (Cuculus canorus).

Also the open, the agricultural land turned out to be very productive. Hoopoe (Upupa epops), Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos minor), Woodlark (Lullula arborea) and Red-backed Shrike (Lanius collurio) could all be observed and photographed. These species are among the typical species that were easy to find. A highlight was a Black Stork (Ciconia nigra), which flew out of the woods one day and went to the newly-built channels in the wet meadows. In addition, a sub adult male Northern (or Hen) Harrier, Circus cyaneus, could be observed one day and photographed. Of course the harrier could not be photographed like on the trip to Norderney in early May 2013. On that island in the Northern Sea, the male was observed as it was hunting for prey for himself, his partner and the young in the dunes and grassland areas of the island. But on the basis of the recordings it could be approved that voles are prey as on the island of Norderney. The observation of foraging hen harriers in summer is rare in Germany. Because the large-scale destruction of habitat have greatly contributed to a decline in the population of this species. Previously, the Harrier was a typical breeding bird of heath and moor and widespread throughout Germany. After draining of the marshes and reclamation of the heath together with an intensification of agriculture, the habitat was taken from the Hen Harrier.

A special event was the nightly search for species such as the Eurasian Woodcock (Scolopax rusticola) and the Eurasian Nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus). The Nightjar prefers dry sandy heath and bog areas and edges of woodland as habitat. For outbound dawn, the male shouts his almost uncanny, purring vocals sound in the nighty sky.

A special kick would have been the observation of a Wolf (Canis lupus). Otherwise, you must be be satisfied with only the tracks. Should you encounter a Wolf, you have only a brief moment. Unfortunately, after that, the wolf disappears just as quickly as it appeared. They are still very shy creatures but the camera traps reveil, that they are now quite common with many families living especially on the old military training centres.

But otherwise these mornings were a real pleasure made this trip to a at a fantastic week. Albeit with many mosquitoes sometimes. Not only, but also from the ornithological point of view. In addition, it was possible to photograph songbirds such as Whinchat (Saxicola rubetra), Stonechat (Saxicola rubicola) and even cranes (Grus grus) with a young. Perfect additions to the bird-lens portfolio. A non-ornithological hightlight was the close-up sighting of a River Otter (Lutra lutra) stalking out of the reed and approaching the excited, but still standing photographer up to a distance of less than 15 meters.

From the conservation point of view the former military military training areas in Brandburg as the area near the small town of Lieberose or south of the village of Reicherskreuz are extremely valuable habitat for a variety of breeding and migratory birds and retreats for in other parts of Germany highly endangered species. The former military use has indeed left deep wounds and mountains of costly ammunition in these landscapes. This, on the other hand, led to wide-ranging areas remained uninhabited and are not cut by roads. The occurrence of extensive sandy heaths, fascinating moors and clear water lakes have great potential for species conservation.

The Reicherskreuz and Lieberose heather are part of Important Bird Areas (IBA) in Brandenburg, which has the aim to protect a extensive heaths in the core. The IBA is a natural area to the eastern Brandenburg heath and lakes region extends over a 28 km section of the Lieberoser moraine and the Reicherskreuz Sanders. Parts of the IBA is dominated by extensive pine forests interspersed with many smaller lakes and bogs but mainly open heathland. It is a complex of former military training areas and military property, which has been claimed by Russian forces until 1992 and used extensively for 45 years.

The mostly gently undulating area is intersected by only two roads and a now disused railway line and is therefore characterized by a very low populated and undeveloped area, especially since much of the open land subject to a restraining order because of contamination. The range of important habitats ranging from poorest sand currently open landscapes – even with smaller dunes – sand and dry grasslands and heaths, woods of birch and pine and even dense forests with stands of different tree species. The areal extent of these habitat types is impressive, each containing several hundred to over a thousand acres. Besides the importance for bird life, the existence of the Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca) is remarkable. Moreover, were found many rare and highly specialized species of invertebrate fauna.

The IBA is one of the most important breeding areas of the nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus) and the Tawny Pipit (Anthus campestris) in Brandenburg and is of national importance for these species. The Hoopoe (Upupa epops) exist in a distribution center here, too. Also to be mentioned as breeding birds of the Boreal Owl (Aegolius funereus), the Pygmy Owl (Claucidium passerinum) and the Woodlark (Lulluta arborea).

From a regional perspective, the breeding population are of Teal (Anas crecca), Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula), Eurasian Hobby (Falco subbuteo), Crane (Grus grus), Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus) Great Grey Shrike (Lanius excubitor), Eurasian Stonechat (Saxicola rubicola) and Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe Oenanthe) worth mentioning. Another remarkable feature is the relatively high concentration of large bird breeding pairs, which benefit of the undisturbance of the area.

It is worthwhile to spend a few days in the area. Very good was the contact with Hagen Deutschmann who lives and works in the vicinity of Lieberose, in the small town Blasdorf. Hagen is the ornithological expert of the area Lieberoser Heide. He also rented a very nice apartment. Hagen Deutschmann can be contacted at Pictures of the great stay in Lieberoser Heath found here: / /

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