It's exam time at the moment but since I have a break I thought I'd bring you up to speed on my family holiday abroad to Germany whilst visiting our relatives.
Leaving early morning on the 13th April started, as always, with a considerable amount of yawning, moaning and eventual reluctance as we headed off for Dover to complete the long journey, as usual, by car (a Red Fox wandering along the side of the motorway was the highlight). The crossing was, as one might expect, enjoyable but not extremely eventful. None the less, I stayed outdoors for the entire trip, as I always do in order to clock any passing seabirds. Highlights included 22 Common Scoter, loads of Kittiwakes, 2 possible Yellow-legged Gulls, 2 diver sp's heading north, crossing well ahead of the bow (they were probably Red-throats but I couldn't be certain) and my first Common Terns of the year (on the French side of the channel).
A brief stop at Marais de Guines, which my brother had selected in the high hope of finding Golden Oriole, Bluethroat and Marsh Warbler. Unfortunately, we were rather disappointed as we only heard one reeling Grasshopper Warbler, a singing Cuckoo, Marsh Harriers and our first Sedge Warblers of the year. A Coypu was a surprise to find as we'd both never seen one before but other than that it was fairly average aside from our first Speckled Wood of the year too.
Our first proper stop was Aachen to see aunt, uncle and cousins. My younger cousin was quite keen on going birding with me early the next morning and after a short wander through the town we came across a nice slice of woodland flanking a small stream. Our luck was in as I managed to show my novice younger cousin her first SHORT-TOED TREECREEPER along with a single Red Squirrel feeding in the trees (a species she is far more accustomed to than me). We headed out again soon after lunch and clocked yet another 2 Short-toed Treecreepers, all in full song and easy to locate, followed by my first House Martin of the year and singing Firecrest.
Red Squirrel antics!
We had to leave for our second destination later that day so it was back in the car and traveling eastwards for yet another couple hours. Fortunately, my brother and I ticked 2 BLACK KITES from the car as we sped along the motorway before arriving in Pantenburg to be greeted with my grandma and a singing male Black Redstart.
I started with an equally early rise and was out by 7am birding the local woodland. Firecrests and Hawfinches inhabited the wood in overwhelming numbers and it wouldn't be much of an exaggeration if I said I didn't take a single step in the forest without hearing or seeing one or both of the species. Black Redstarts littered the surrounding farmland, as did Tree Sparrows and before returning for breakfast, I also found a female Redstart, a singing Willow Tit and a rattling Lesser Whitethroat.
It was a slightly later start for my brother but we still enjoyed a decent days birding as we ambled up to Die Altenberghütte later that morning. It's a small hut overlooking a wooded valley orientated brilliantly to overlook any migrants using the valley to follow its north south orientation. We were not disappointed and as the thermals developed we picked out a circling GOSHAWK and an Osprey flying northwards! 1 Black Stork was a bonus as were 4 Black Kites on our return home.
view from the hut
Yet another early start but I was a bit less hasty and arrived at the wood half an hour later than usual. The Firecrests and Hawfinches were by now a lot quieter but surprises came in the form of a flyover Marsh Harrier (a rather random record for an area bordering woodland and no marshes for a couple dozen kilometers!). I even had a decent view of a Short-toed Treecreeper climbing the same tree as a Eurasian one, providing a good comparison but the undoubted highlight was a BLACK WOODPECKER which took off from above me before vanishing without trace through the wood (only a couple dozen meters from where I had seen one last year!)
A nice singing male Whinchat boosted the day a little as did the ever present Black Redstarts.
Yet another visit to Die Altenberghütte produced a flypast Black Woodpecker, singing Firecrest a single Osprey following the river northwards and two butterfly species in the form of Small Tortoiseshell and Green-veined White.
looking south from the hut
...and looking north
vis-migging in the shade
Osprey going north
Much the same as the other couple days except for the later start as Ephraim and I only started vis-migging from 11am. 4 Black Kites (1 west, 3 north), 1 Goshawk circling at the southern end of the valley, 1 Peregrine and 2 Ravens. The usual Red Kites, Buzzards, Sparrowhawk and Kestrel also put on a decent performance. Comma was the only butterfly of note.
Black Kite over my head
Our first day exploring beyond Pantenburg. Exploring might not actually be the right term as we had already discovered Sangweiher and it's good potential on previous visits but we knew at least that it deserved some coverage since it was only 7km up the road. On the short bike ride alone, we encountered Short-toed Treecreeper, 2 Black Redstarts, cycled through 9 Firecrest territories proclaiming them in full song (compare that to 2 Goldcrest heard on the same journey), 3 Lesser Whitethroats, Marsh Tit, a Yellow Wagtail and my first 2 Whitethroats of the year.
Once arriving at Sangweiher we were treated immediately to a nice Spotted Redshank, progressing into sum plum whilst a couple Lesser Whitethroats rattling in the hedgerows added to the days total. Rain shortly ensued forcing c.103+ hirundines to begin hunting low over the small body of water. Here we saw our first 2 Sand Martins of the year and smaller numbers of House Martins with the majority constituting Swallows. Other species of note included a Black Kite circling eastwards over the lake, 3 Willow Tits showing spectacularly well whilst singing and calling, a flyover Snipe, 3 Hobbys, a singing Reed Warbler, 1 Firecrest and a Marsh Tit. Our quest for last years Grey-headed Woodpecker was nearly successful as I caught a brief view of what was almost certainly one flying across the tops of a line of alder and mixed deciduous trees at the edge of the reserve (barely a couple dozen meters from where I had seen one almost exactly one year ago).
Yet another visit to Die Altenberghütte, this time 2 Black Storks flew over and after first picking them out in the far distance as tiny dots, we were extremely fortunate to have one head directly towards us and chose the precise area of stream in front of the hut to land! It was as if we had won the lottery, since it could have chosen any random spot in the huge network of valley systems but instead had decided to chose the one particular spot below us against all the odds! None the less, just as it was coming in to land it vanished behind a bunch of overhanging trees and in a desperate attempt to get a perched view of it, I left the hide to have a walk along the path. In the meantime, my brother stayed behind and obtained gripping views and pics of it wading out into the water!!!
A stunning Black Stork!
whilst it was still in the distance
Other species of note included a further 2 prob. distant Black Storks, 1 Hawfinch and a male Yellow Wagtail flying northwards overhead.
Our last day in Germany and as usual my brother and I decided the best way to spend it would be to revisit the same old Altenberghütte where we could put our feet up and wait for the good stuff to move through. No birds of particular note except a single Hobby and 3 Hawfinches. The highlight came bombing through near the end when we noticed a large orange butterfly sp. shoot past the hut! Alarm bells started ringing as we followed it around before it landed on some low hanging oak branches, it was a LARGE TORTOISESHELL!!
A crater lake we visited the same day
That evening we were back on the ferry bound for Dover. Dad also did well as he pointed out 2 Harbour Porpoises passing the ship whilst I clocked a total of 5 Bonxies.
Bonxie getting a bit of its own medicine and gettig chased by a gull
pier at Calais