Category Archives: Birds of Western Palaearctic

Wigeons on park pond in wintering Brandenburg

PfeifenteOnly small areas of water right on the edge of the reed have remained open. It’s been cold for days, temperatures are around freezing point. Now a strong north wind has taken over. A small town pond not only popular with children and seniors as you can see from the beer bottles lying on the ice, is almost frozen in the gloomy winter light. When I have almost completed the lap around the pond, an inconspicuous duck is standing on the ice. The compact shape, a white belly and the bluish beak with the black tip are striking. It is a Eurasian Wigeon (Mareca penelope) or (Anas penelope). She is undecided as to whether she should stand next to the two Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) on the ice, seek cover in the reeds with the Common Moorhens (Gallinula chloropus), or fly away. Eventually the bird decides to stay. Another Eurasian Wigeon comes in and lands sliding on the ice.

The couple had surely changed into the simple dress in the summer. The male wigeon is particularly noticeable. It has a rust-brown head with a light yellow parting. The head feathers can shimmer slightly green depending on the lighting situation. The chest is colored light pink while the coat and flanks have a fine gray pattern. The female’s plumage is much less conspicuous and resembles the plain dress Continue reading Wigeons on park pond in wintering Brandenburg

White-tailed Eagles on an icy coot hunt

The night was cold, so that a layer of ice had formed on the vast lake. Already 70 percent of the lake area was frozen over. The ice layer was strong enough to carry the White-tailed Eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla). After a few days of snowing, it didn’t get any drier, but it was significantly colder. Temperatures below -5 ° C were possible. A few days later I went on to Lake Blankensee from an excursion to Potsdam.

A morning excursion to the Blankensee not only gave the birder a wonderful water landscape on an impressive winter morning with minus temperatures and fog, but also a remarkable bird-watching of a sea eagle on its icy coot hunt. Obviously the White-tailed Eagle had just captured a Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra) that have run carelessly on the ice. The Eagle immediately tried to leave the ice surface with the coot it had captured, but was attacked by a conspecific as well as some Hooded Crows (Corvus cornix) because of the prey. The struggle dragged on for a while. When the successful White-tailed Eagle had just scared away the Hooded Crows, another hungry White-tailed Eagle came flying in.

The well-developed reed areas of the Blankensee southwest of Berlin are a very good photo area and, among other things, known for the Bearded Tits or Bearded Reedlings (Panurus biarmicus) found in the reeds. A boardwalk affords a very nice view of the lake from the east. The boardwalk can be reached either from the parking lot at the exit of Blankensee in the direction of Schönhagen or from the parking lot in the middle of Blankensee (near Blankensee Castle) on a short walk. It is the only way to observe birds up close on the Blankensee, as the lake is otherwise completely surrounded by wide siltation zones with reed beds and alder break.

Adult female eagles can weigh up to 7 kg, while males remain significantly below that, but still weigh up to 5 kg. So it is no wonder that the imposing birds have a wingspan of up to 2.5 meters. White-tailed Eagles also feed on fish. But also (larger) waterfowl up to the Continue reading White-tailed Eagles on an icy coot hunt

Sparrowhawk feeding on a House Sparrow

SperberIf you operate a winter bird feeder, you can easily make beautiful and interesting nature observations from the window. For this reason I also feed, and not because I expect it to have a nature conservation effect. Many of our endangered birds aren’t there in winter anyway. They are in the warm south and would not come to the bird feeder in the garden even if they were fed in summer.

However, there are species that come to the feeding ground not because of the sunflower seeds, but because of the small birds that want to eat them. The Eurasian Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) should be mentioned here, which regularly appears in villages and at farms in winter and prey on them. So also at my feeding place.

This feeding place consists of a small house that I place on a crossbeam on a fruit tree and provide this with sunflower seeds. The birds can simply drop from the lowest branch of a tree nearby onto the table in front of the house. Most frequent guests are Marsh Tit (Poecile palustris), Great Tit (Parus major), Eurasian Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus), Common Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs), European Greenfinch (Chloris chloris), Eurasian Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula), many House Sparrow (Passer domesticus), Eurasian Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus) and one or the other Coal Tit (Periparus ater). I enjoy sitting at the window with the last cup of coffee from Continue reading Sparrowhawk feeding on a House Sparrow

Winter roost for Hen harriers in Brandenburg

A Northern or Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus) is hovering in the early morning light in front of a forest belt. In the first morning light a female Hen Harrier had been siting on a broken Birch (Betula pubescens) in one of the many swamps in southern Brandenburg called „luch“. A luch is the northeast German name for an extensive, moored lowland. These luchs can be found especially in Brandenburg in the landscapes that were shaped by the Ice Age several thousand years before.

The Hen Harriers seem to have chosen the luch as a sleeping place for the nights in wintertime. High up on the broken tree trunk, Hen Harrier shook iots plumage for a while, before going on short hunting trips. Finally, a Eurasian Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) flew over the marsh birch quarry forest and also passed the Harriers resting place. The female Eurasian then left the grassy parts of the swamp and disappeared into the adjacent forest. Suddenly a second Eurasian was in the air – a female as well. Together the two flew westward. It was interesting that two days earlier a male Northern Harrier could also be seen in the open part of the swamp in front of a Pine tree (Pinus sylvestris). So the area could well be a sleeping place for hen harriers in the winter period. A place in the peat moss-sedge-cottongrass reed seems to be preferred. The Purple Moor-grass (Molinia caerulea) can be clearly seen. The Purple Moor-grass Continue reading Winter roost for Hen harriers in Brandenburg

Jay at the feeding place

Usually this bird rarely comes within shooting range. When it comes to winter feeding, it can also be seen from a shorter distance: the Eurasian Jay (Garrulus glandarius). The most colorful raven bird in our latitudes. Usually it is a cautious fellow which is only occasionally seen up close. You can hear its voice there quite often, and its “rattling” convincingly tells us his relationship to the Real Crows (Corvinae). The Jays (Garrulinae) are generally more colorful and varied in color. The non-ornithologist will be surprised that both groups are included in the songbirds. And yet the Eurasian Jay is not untalented as a singer and can even imitate other species of birds.

When it comes to food choices, the Eurasian Jays are quite versatile. In spring and summer they do not shrink from eating young birds and clutches. In autumn and winter, on the other hand, it is berries, nuts and seeds that disappear into the robust beak of this omnivore. In any case, the Eurasian Jay enjoys it in front of my camera. It is possible that the bird has also filled its crop sack with nuts in order to then bury them for later consumption. Because the jay is a master at keeping stocks. It also likes to help himself from his fellow species.

I had a special experience when I set up a feeding place for the birds Continue reading Jay at the feeding place

Northern Gannets and other seabirds on Heligoland

BasstölpelA deafening screeching can be heard from afar. The colors shine in a unique soft pink on the horizon. The sun is obscured by light clouds. What a great light! We are standing on Lummenfelsen near the Northern Gannets (Morus bassanus). The conditions are beautiful. With a wonderfully diffuse light you could take pictures all day. We don’t just pay attention to these large white birds. But also the many Black-legged Kittiwakes (Rissa tridactyla) and the Common Murre (Uria aalge) buzzing in front of the steep face are fascinating. We can also take pictures of one or the other Razorbill (Alca torda).

When it starts to rain, we go back to the little hotel for a lunch break. A short lunch snack, then we walk back to the gannets. The wind develops into a solid storm with wind force 10 to 11. One or the other may then think about stopping; especially since you are standing directly on the edge of the cliff. But what sounds like a single imposition at first was really great. The Northern Gannets are in the air in front of us and the clouds are arranged in dark formations. Wisps of clouds fly by. In between, one or the other white feather wipes over the cliff. Photography is really fun. Only drawback: Since the wind comes west and thus directly from the Continue reading Northern Gannets and other seabirds on Heligoland

Photography of bathing White-tailed Eagles

SeeadlerFor days I have been watching White-tailed Eagles (Haliaeetus albicilla) on a lake in the middle of Brandenburg to find their preferred resting places. Some immature young eagles (around 3 to 4 years old), with almost white tails, playfully train their reactions in the air. In autumn, flocks of unpaired, immature White-tailed Eagles roam around. I have set myself the not-so-easy task of taking photos at a bathing or drinking spot of ​​the White-tailed Eagles. A and that without the usual support as a bait facility. If you have set yourself up for something like this, you should know for sure that the eagles will really come close to the hide, otherwise the long preparatory work would be in vain. It decided for the construction of a reed hiding place. The construction must take place at a time when the White-tailed Eagles do not appear. A suspicious look at the sky from time to time is certainly helpful. After all, the camouflage hide is perfectly adapted to the landscape. Now it is time to let a few days pass. Then you can dare to spend the first day in hiding.

The first day in the hide. After a while bird activity rose. First, a common buzzard (Buteo buteo) came near the hiding place. A little later other birds. Including a Common Raven (Corvus corax) and then Continue reading Photography of bathing White-tailed Eagles

Distribution patterns of Black-necked Grebes

SchwarzhalstaucherBlack-necked Grebes (Podiceps nigricollis) know how to use favorable conditions surprisingly spontaneously in individual years, as if “scouts” were permanently on the move, which guide other birds to new habitats and locations. One example is the spontaneous emergence of a breeding colony at the Alfsee in the Landkreis (district) Osnabrück in Lower Saxony in June 2011 with 52 pairs which tried to use the favorable conditions through the mass occurrence of emergent water plants. It goes without saying that not all breeding occurrences emerge and disappear so quickly; there are also numerous breeding sites that have been occupied for decades and are often located near colonies of gulls, especially those of the Common Black-headed Gull (Larus ridibundus).

One other example is an occurrence in southern Brandenburg. In a vast shallow lake area, the Rietzer See near Kloster Lehnin, the numbers are impressive since the beginning of counting and on April 13, 2012 more than 110 Black-necked Grebes were counted.

It was not until 2011 that the first Black-necked Grebes appeared at the Reckahner ponds, also in the municipality of Kloster Lehnin, but in a fish pond farm. Then there were no more reports for 7 years and then from 2018 onwards some reports, which then culminated in a Continue reading Distribution patterns of Black-necked Grebes

Vagrant Hume’s Warbler in Brandenburg

The decision to try the ornithologist’s luck despite the distance of 75 km was made quickly. A Hume’s Warbler (Phylloscopus humei) was reported on from the northern Spreewald. Oh, sure just a short sighting – and the bird is gone, I was thinking first. But the next day, the Hume’s Warbler was still hanging around the small village of Dannenreich, in the Spreewald. The attentive and happy first observer, Bodo Sonnenburg, was able to locate the Leaf Warbler on the first day between 08:50 a.m. and 09:05 a.m. by ist calls several times. Although the bird was approx. Only 10 to 15 meters away, it was difficult to see the bird in the willow bushes  and reeds on the opposite side of the Skabyer Torfgraben, which is a peat ditch.

Around 7:30 am – the sun was sending the first tentative rays from the east – I was standing at the point that had been identified as Brandenburg’s hotspot for the last two days. The Skabyer Torfgraben is approached from the village of Dannenreich via a dirt road. On the other, the southern side, there is a swamp that makes any access impossible. The Hume’s Warbler had been seen calling several times in the afternoon of the previous day in a Willow tree (Salix sp.) with a few broken branches. It was cold, the thermometer showed 1 ° C. A wonderful morning without wind and without clouds. Alone, the bird could not be seen. A Eurasian Robin (Erithacus rubecula) jumped calling through a dense willow bush, some Eastern Eurasian Bullfinches (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) were unmistakable in the alder crowns above me. But the Hume’s Warbler stayed hidden for the first 45 minutes. Then the message came on that the Hume’s Warbler had been seen again. Ok, so my position was the wrong one. A little later I found a group of ornithologists standing just 50 meters away on the Skaby peat ditch.

We only waited a short time together. Then, attracted by a characteristic call, not unlike that of a White Wagtail (Motacilla alba), a small, grayish looking bird – clearly a small warbler – could be seen in the backlight. Photos were out of the question. The Hume’s Continue reading Vagrant Hume’s Warbler in Brandenburg

Laguna de Gallocanta and its Common Cranes

KranichThe salt lake and its surroundings have long been an important resting place for Common Crane (Grus grus) on their way to the wintering grounds in southern Spain and north Africa. The number of Common Crane overwintering has been increasing steadily for several years, so that over 10,000 cranes can be found on the lagoon throughout the winter. At the peak of the migration, in late October and mid-February, more than 35,000 cranes were counted. Large flocks of Common Crane, of course, generally attract attention. Numerous Common Crane enthusiasts meet at well-known places such as the Darß, the Günzer See (both Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in north-eastern Germany), the Linumer Bruch, the Diepholzer Moorniederung (both Germany) or the Hornborga See in Sweden to witness this spectacle. In the meantime, it has been set up a special infrastructure for observation and photography in many places. If you are prepared to drive a bit further, can recommend the large resting site for Cranes in the middle of Spain: the Laguna de Gallocanta in northeastern Spain, around 100 kilometers southwest of the city of Zaragoza.

The area in which the cranes are located is a plateau with a steppe-like character and a moderate agricultural use. A wide, undeveloped, flat landscape is framed by picturesque mountain ranges – unfortunately, today spoiled with large wind turbine parks. Birding observation towers offer a good view of the resting sites in the Continue reading Laguna de Gallocanta and its Common Cranes

Common Cranes over Brandenburg

KranichMigration of the Common Crane (Grus grus) has started. Thousands of these birds, also known as “birds of luck”, can currently be observed in Brandenburg on their way to the southern wintering sites under distinctive and loud trumpet calls. The unforgettable nature experience is offered in September and October every year. With their legendary trumpet calls, thousands of Common Cranes fly in the blue sky, circling in the thermal, fly to their resting sites in Brandenburg. All of this is done to prepare for the long onward flight tot he south. During the day, the birds can mainly be observed on the feeding areas on harvested corn fields. But the evening flight to the rest areas is particularly impressive.

The loud trumpet calls make the heads of visitors and residents of Brandenburg go up by themselves. The Common Crane breeds in good numbers in Brandenburg. But so far not in western Germany. The Common Crane is a pure migrant there. Now the migration has started via Rhineland-Palatinate and Hesse towards their wintering quarters in southern France and Spain.

These fascinating birds can be observed very nicely in the post-mining landscape of the Luckau region. The Cranes are increasingly Continue reading Common Cranes over Brandenburg

Young female Goshawk attacked by Kestrel in the Eifel

While observing the bird migration on the Bürvenicher Berg at the edge of the Eifel, I could see a young Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis) flying elegantly low over a field. Striking were the size and the flight pattern on top, which was determined by a brown color and the rather broad, curved wings at the rear edge. A powerful bird that then perched in a dry elderberry tip. Immediately a male of a pair of Eurasian Kestrels (Falco tinnunculus), which had been sitting on its perch significantly further down the slope, started calling. The young female hawk was not impressed by this. Thereupon the young Goshawk was vehemently attacked first by the male, then also by the female Eurasian Kestrel. Above all, the male of the Kestrel rose regularly in the morning sky, then hit the edge of the forest with the elderberry with flung wings, caught himself in the fall less than 3 meters above the Goshawk and circled around and in close contact the bare branches of the bush. The young female Goshawk did recognize that it was the subject of the attacks, regularly turned her head in the direction of the attacker, then sometimes up in the sky. All in all, however, she remained extremely unimpressed and did not let her morning perch scare her away.

The female of the Kestrel could also be heard quite loudly, but did not step into such a vehement attack and stayed largely away from the flight action. In an unobserved moment the female Goshawk Continue reading Young female Goshawk attacked by Kestrel in the Eifel