Category Archives: Nature Conservation

Magnificent Bird-of-paradise in the rainforest

FurchenparadiesvogelHeavy rains during the last night made the path through the steep slopes of the rainforest almost impassable. Again and again I sink up to my knees in the mud while I try to follow my guide, who is carrying my luggage and using his machete to help us through the thicket of lianas and branches. Suddenly we hear a short whistle: That must be the courtship call of a Magnificent Bird-of-Paradise (Cicinnurus magnificus). Although we can spot no bird, a courtship area can be clearly seen in front of us on the forest floor. My guide builds a provisional hiding place out of leaves and a few hours later we visit the place again. But since it starts to rain again, no bird can be seen. Over the next five days I keep trying my luck in the hide, but unfortunately it rains almost all the time. Only in the rain breaks does a male stop by and inspect the courtship area. After all, I am rarely lucky enough to see a Red-bellied Pitta (Pitta erythrogaster) which is now split taxonomically and called a Papuan Pitta (Erythropitta macklotii). This species is extremely shy and difficult to observe. The annual rainfall in this area of ​​New Guinea is 6,000 millimeters, so rain (mostly at night) is quite the order of the day. I set my trip in the dry season, but unfortunately, according to the locals, I apparently had hit a particularly wet dry season. After that unsuccessful experience, I changed location to the Central Highlands around Mt. Hagen in the middle of the island. Here I was accomodated in the rustic lodge, the Kumul Lodge, and my success level developed much better. Here I shot the image of the blog, the female Crested Bird-of-paradise.

When the first scientists from Europe saw New Guinea’s birds-of-paradise at the beginning of the 19th century, they were completely perplexed: “I was too amazed to shoot the bird,” wrote the French Continue reading Magnificent Bird-of-paradise in the rainforest

Gurney’s Pitta at Khao Pra Bang Khram Park in southern Thailand

GoldkehlpittaI wake up in the middle of the night to the heavy pounding of rain falling on the tin roof. It takes a good 1 hour before I can go back to sleep. Then I remember: the reason to come to Khao Pra Bang Khram Park (formerly Khao Nor Chu Chi) is the chance to discover the very rare Gurney’s Pitta (Pitta gurneyi).

“If you have seen Angola Pitta you can close your books” That was the statement of my experienced guide in Malawi in 2006. I saw the Angola Pitta (Pitta angolensis) and, to my shame, I have to admit that with this sighting the appetite for Pittas tends to increase not to diminish. There was no question of closing the books. So now the Gurney’s Pitta. Otherwise this bird occurs only in a few lowland rainforests in Myanmar and Thailand. After the dipping the previous day – we had to keep ourselves harmless with the Banded Pitta (Pitta guajana) – we took the second attempt this morning. So the early morning was reserved for this rare Pitta species.

I am at breakfast before 6:00 am. For breakfast, I really hit it again. No experiments. There are pancakes and fried eggs. Strong coffee adds to a real breakfast. As promised and like yesterday morning, Yotin, my guide, is standing in front of the open dining room of my small guesthouse, the Morakot Resort, at exactly 6.30 am. With his pick-up, a heavy 4X4 truck. It really seems to clear up now. The thick rain clouds of the night are still there. But there could be a nice day once the clouds have cleared. First, Yotin shows me the blooming tree with the Orange-bellied Flowerpecker (Dicaeum trigonostigma) Continue reading Gurney’s Pitta at Khao Pra Bang Khram Park in southern Thailand

Prey and spectrum of food of European Bee-eater

BienenfresserThe name already reveals part of the food spectrum of the magnificent birds. Bee-eaters (Merops apiaster) lead a short, eventful life in Germany. The colorful birds only arrive in our latitudes in the second half of May. Bee-eaters feed exclusively on insects, specializing in the hunting of large and medium-sized flying insects. Bees, bumblebees, beetles, wasps, dragonflies and butterflies are among their main prey. In order to hunt them efficiently, the Bee-eater needs a “perch”, an elevated twig, from which it can start hunting. Birds’ habitats therefore always include old trees with bare branches or tall shrubs. In order to avoid stings from its defensive prey, the Bee-eater subjects its victims to a truly murderous treatment. Before devouring them, he kills non-toxic insects by knocking them on a branch several times. Or he occasionally throws them in the air and catches them again. European Bee-eaters always grab “poison-biting” insects on the abdomen and hits them once or twice on a branch before rubbing the end of their abdomen on a branch. This is how the poison is drawn  out of bees or wasps and is removed thereafter. After a few more hits on the head, the insect is finally ready to eat. Who likes to risk a stab in the esophagus?

Because of its food spectrum, the bee-eater relies on a warm climate. Over the centuries European Bee-eaters has continued to expand its distribution area to the north. But it is an eventful story of expansion and withdrawal. The Bee-eater is currently on the rise Continue reading Prey and spectrum of food of European Bee-eater

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

Birds in Kakum NP from Canopy Walkway

BorstenbartvogelA strange bird is looking through the leaves like a dwarf Gnom. The Bristle-nosed Barbet (Gymnobucco peli) is the bird which welcomed us during a visit in the early morning. Fog and mist in the first light of dawn makes the rain forest look like a Chinese drawing. In the humid lowland rainforest of Ghana we are standing since dawn up to 45 meters above ground on the so-called Canopy Walkway. It takes a while to climb the hiking path from the Visitor Center. But after about 20 minutes we stand in a shelter hut in front of the suspension bridges. Each suspension bridge connects a platform, which is attached to a thick jungle tree. The first platforms are located in the slope area and are therefore more protected by the foliage of the canopy of the trees nearby. Despite the cloudy morning we enjoy a great view of the rainforest. It is hazy to say not really foggy. First we think, it is a pity that there is always a drizzle today. But quickly we realize how birdy this morning will be. First we see 2 African Forest Flycatcher or Fraser’s Forest Flycatcher (Fraseria ocreata) near the platform that we had used so productively in March with Birdquest in the morning. A little later, (Forest) Chestnut-winged Starling (Onychognathus fulgidus) can be seen. The White-crested Hornbill (Tockus albocristatus) announces itself with his calls. Also on Continue reading Birds in Kakum NP from Canopy Walkway

Birding in Chobe Nationalpark/ Botswana

Afrikanischer ScherenschnabelIn the first morning light a mokoro-boat splits the shallow waves of the early river. Silence lies over the wide river plain in the morning haze. The birding specials in the area around the Chobe River in the north of Botswana, characterized by flood plains, grasslands and riparian woods along the river courses, are real treats for avid birders. The bird list is characterized by many species that love the proximity to the water. These include White-backed Night Heron (Gorsachius leuconotus), Slaty Egret (Egretta vinaceigula), African Darter (Anhinga rufa), African Marsh Harrier (Circus ranivorus), African Finfoot (Podica senegalensis), Pel’s Fishing Owl (Scotopelia peli), Half-collared Kingfisher (Alcedo semitorquata), Giant Kingfisher (Megaceryle maxima) and – last not least – the African Skimmer (Rynchops flavirostris).  But also other beautiful and/ or rare birds like White-fronted Bee-eater (Merops bullockoides), Red-necked Falcon (Falco chicquera), Meyer’s Parrot (Poicephalus meyeri), Swamp Boubou (Laniarius bicolor), Holub’s Golden Weaver (Ploceus xanthops) and Brown Firefinch (Lagonosticta nitidula). Regular guests from the western Palearctic from October on are Great Reed Warblers (Acrocephalus arundinaceus) and Thrush Nightingales (Luscinia luscinia).

When we’ve left the river bend behind the lodge for a while, a flock starts moving with a heavy, powerful wing beat. Perched low on a sandbank were standing dozens of black and white colored birds with a strikingly long red bill. These are the long-awaited African Skimmer. First, the flock turns a round over the resting sandbar. Then the flock descends into low altitude flight. The black-and-white-colored, roughly tern-sized birds with their long, elegant wings fly a few centimeters above calm water, hovers prey-hunting parallel to the water surface – as you might want to see from the Skimmers at River Sanaga in Cameroon. Suddenly they pull out their oversized, laterally flattened and sharp-edged lower beak and pull it, flattening its wings, through the upper layers of water. They fly until their beaks come into contact with a fish. Shortly thereafter, it closes his beak abruptly, and a small silver fish disappears wriggling in the throat of the successful hunters.

The beaks of the Skimmers have over thirty special adaptations to the hunting technique in the skull and neck area – such as horn-like Continue reading Birding in Chobe Nationalpark/ Botswana

Wildlife in The SPERRGEBIET / Namibia

RiesentrappeOnly after I have held many talks and signed a pile of paper, I get access to the “Sperrgebiet”, a diamond restricted area. Not only the precious stones benefited from the enormous security measures. Incidentally, the most protected nature reserve in the world was created – an African wilderness that is not in the public eye because it is so difficult to access. This makes birdwatching and photography as appealing as it is complicated. Of many settlements of the Diamond era, only ghost towns remain, which are recaptured by the desert again. The ruins of these ghost towns are populated by animals. In addition to birds such as the Kori bustard (Ardeotis kori), reptiles also feel at ease here.

The restricted area is larger than many states in Europe and is only permeated by a few dust tracks. Only where gems are extracted, it is worth to maintain connecting routes. The remaining slopes are quickly reclaimed from the desert. An off-road vehicle is therefore indispensable. Nevertheless, many areas of the restricted area were simply not accessible.

Since the operators of the mines are no longer interested in nature, the infrastructure is correspondingly poor. Detailed maps are not available, there are no Rangers and few other people who can help Continue reading Wildlife in The SPERRGEBIET / Namibia

Yellow-headed Picathartes: a mystical bird

Gelbkopf-FelshüpferIn 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

White-crested Laughingthrush from a hide

WeißhaubenhäherlingA 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

Orchards: home for the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

KleinspechtLesser 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 Western Hazel Grouse – a bird on the edge of extinction

Haselhuhn, MännchenThe 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

Feeding with fish: Kingfisher´s wedding gift

EisvogelA 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