Wednesday, 27 January 2016

An update from Germany! (15th December-27th January)

For the last month I’ve been staying with relatives in Germany, first visiting my sister in Berlin for a few days before moving on to Munster briefly to visit my aunt then on to Pantenburg (Rheinland-Pfalz) for a family reunion over Christmas at my grandma’s.

Whilst visiting my sister I managed to fit in some birding but besides that, the Christmas markets and lazing around in the flat meant there was little time left to explore some of the surrounding lakes as I had hoped.  A walk through the Tiergarten park was fairly productive with some frosty Treecreepers (ssp. macrodactyla were very educational) as were the euopea spp. of Long-tailed Tit. In fact, there were even one or two Northern Long-tailed Tits within the tit flocks.  However, the majority of the group comprised intermediate birds with a variable trace of dark nape stripes leading between the mantle and over the crown towards the eye (mostly falling short of the eye though).

Northern Long-tailed Tit

intermediate Long-tailed Tit

Continental Treecreeper ssp. macrodactyla

A showy Middle Spotted Woodpecker and Hawfinch were an added bonus and the sight of Tree Sparrows in the inner city was also quite amusing.  Further trips included two visits to Adlershof in order to track down some Crested Larks reported in the area.  Although the area included a lot of suitable habitat I only managed to get two brief views of a lark sp. flying away from me, I’ll simply have to keep searching whenever the opportunity arises again.  Other birds of note included a Black Redstart, Lesser Redpolls, Siskins, and a male Yellowhammer.  This bird too was rather educational as it had orange submoustachial stripes connected at the base of the chin.  I remember reading about eastern birds sporting such features so was intrigued to see that it was possible to encounter such birds as far west on the continent as Berlin.

Adlershof, Berlin

My sister and I also went for a walk around Flakensee, a large lake near Erkner.  Although it was dusk by the time we arrived we came across a Mink at the water’s edge, a Goosander, numerous Coot, Mallard and a few Mute Swans. The walk along the lake edge was also punctuated by the occasional felled tree, the work of Beavers! Other noteworthy birds whilst I was in Berlin include a pair of Mandarins in the small park opposite my sisters flat, a flock of 19 Ravens and numerous Treecreepers (including several potential Short-toed Treecreepers which didn’t provide suitable views for confirmation).

My sister and I then took the coach to Munster on the 20th December to visit my aunt Marianne. The low-lying town has a very flat topography which has made it the most popular town in Germany to commute by bike with additional thanks to its numerous cycle paths.  It was therefore easy to head out for a mornings birding to the local nature reserve, Die Riesel Felder just a short 15 minute ride away.  The following morning I was there at dawn but decided to walk instead and was fortunate enough to see Red Squirrels in the woodland, numerous Marsh Tits (they seemed to be the commonest tit species in the area), and shortly before arriving at the reserve I noticed a group of 7 White Storks wandering around a stubble field together with the escape African Sacred Ibis, Egyptian Geese, and some Greylags.  The reserve was even more productive with large areas of reedbed and small water bodies and a large muddy surface.  These hosted 4 Great White Egrets, 100’s Eurasian White-fronted Geese, Lapwing, Shoveler, Teal, Pintail, Mallard, Gadwall and a Red-crested Pochard. A quick look at the previous evening gave me the heads up that there was a MARSH SANDPIPER on the on the reserve.  This proved surprisingly easy to find and became my first German rarity!  A Great Grey Shrike, Yellow-legged Gulls and a few potential distant Caspian Gulls were also present.  Latter visits produced a single flock of 400+ Eurasian White-fronted Geese and 8 White Storks (6 of which were darvic ringed, including one with additional colour rings on the left leg (blue over yellow) all above the tarsus joint).  A distant large mammal on the far side of a pond (presumably a Coypu) at the water’s edge knawing on some vegetation was a surprise too.  Other perambulations about Munster produced Hawfinches, calling Bullfinch (unfortunately didn’t get to see it to check for Northern Bullfinch) and more Long-tailed Tits (all spp. europea with no Northerns or intermediates).

African Sacred Ibis

Great White Egret

Marsh Sandpiper

White Storks

Eurasian White-fronted Geese

The third location of my trip was Pantenburg for a family reunion over Christmas.  Highlights from 23rd-31st December included numerous Crested Tits and Marsh Tits in the local woodland, great views of a Black Woodpecker at the Sportplatz along with a couple other calling birds, up to 200 Yellowhammer along the Feldweg, together with dozens of Tree Sparrows and the odd Hawfinch.  I was lucky enough to flush a Woodcock from the side of the woodland path despite a hunt going on the previous day in the same area.  Most surprising of all was a flock of 113 Cranes flying NE over the village on the 28th December (first heard whilst inside my grandma’s house).  Goshawks, an additional speciality, were seen over the Sportplatz on the 27th Dec and one from the Feldweg on the 31st Dec.  Other species of note included Continental Coal Tits (a target species which I hoped to study a little more closely whilst in Germany), Willow Tit, a ringed Kestrel, Red Squirrels and 3 Hares inside the woodland which bolted away across the leaf litter.  6 Golden Plover and 23 Lapwing were also seen from the Feltweg on the 31st.

Pantenburg woodland near the Sportplatz

Continental Chaffinch

sunset viewed from the Altenberghutte

Cranes over Pantengurg

Brambling on the Feltweg

Cranes over Trier

Bullfinch looking a little bit like a Northern

The New Year started gradually, despite not yearlisting it was nicenote my first bird of the year, a Hawfinch flying over on my way up the road to see my cousins.  Later highlights over the early part of January included 1-2 Goshawks seen from the Altenberghutte chasing Woodpigeons in the far south of the valley, 76 Cranes (including 12 juvs) pitched down in the stubble field by the Feldweg (latter heard calling over the village as they dispersed), Short-toed Treecreepers, Willow Tits and 1-2 Middle Spotted Woodpeckers only meters from my grandmas front door.

As always, a trip to Sangweiher (the nearest nature reserve with a decent water body) was on the cards.  The opportunity arose on the 8th Jan, with a bike sorted I cycled up the Fahrradweg (an old train line converted to a bridle way).  Shortly before arriving at the reserve were 2 Great White Egrets wandering around the damp meadows.  Shortly after turning off the bridle way a small flock of 10-15 Bullfinches flew up from the side of the track. These were carefully scrutinised and revealed that almost all seemed to be Continental birds, however, an obliging female did stand out considerably in displaying some subtle Northern Bullfinch characteristics.  Being noticeably larger than the accompanying Bullfinches the mantle was several shades paler, as was the breast and belly.  The upperparts also lacked the deeper brown tones of the other females and similarly lacked the rich dirty brown underside, replaced with a pale pastel grey with a hint of purple.  The lozenge mark on the undertail was not apparent but the wing bar was cleaner white and seemed to have a trace of a serrated upper edge.  I only managed to grab a distant photo of it but the impression of a noticeably paler washed out bird amongst the classic continental birds was surprisingly striking.

Bullfinch, an individual with a white lozenge mark on the undertail

Other birds of note included 3 Cranes (2 adults, 1 juv) on the far side of the reserve before flying south, 2 Willow Tits and good numbers of Teal and Mallard.

A Brambling along the Feldweg amongst the large flock of Chaffinches and Yellowhammers was a minor target species followed by a second stunning adult male near the end of the month.

Further Cranes were heard in dense fog on the 9th January (Pantenburg), 2 adults flew through on the 10th (also Pantenburg), a flock of 38 went west over Trier on the 11th, 56+ were seen distantly flying south over Manderscheid on the 13th, 3 went east over Pantenburg on the 14th and a flock was heard passing over the east end of Pantenburg on the 19th in the dark.  Numerous Black Woodpeckers were seen in the surrounding woodlands including two active nests found.  Display calls were heard on one occasion on the 20th January.

A second visit to Sangweiher on the 22nd January was rather different to the first.  The water body was totally frozen over so the only wildfowl were 9 Teal and a few flyover Mallards near the sewage works.  There were 30 Bullifnches in the area including a flock of 17 showing many Northern Bullfinch characteristics.  Several females had clear lozenge marks on the undertail (one a bold drop shaped mark overlapping onto two webs).  They were noticeably larger built with pastel toned underparts.  One male nearly had the full set of features, clear white lozenge on the undertail, cold pink chest, pale blue/grey upperparts and white serrated GCs.  Another male even had some traces of pink feathering in the crown.

Other highlights included Willow Tit and 2 Foxes at the neighbouring nature reserve (Mürmes).

On the 25th January I drove on to Aachen to visit my aunt, uncle and cousins the Schmitz-Kerpen family.  A few wanderings to the local parkland produced numerous Hawfinches and on a walk through the woodland near Buir to see the derelict motorway about to be sacrificed to the expansion of a coal mine the only bird encountered in the woodland was a single Middle-spotted Woodpecker.

Post-North Ron Doldrums (20th November-14th December)

The journey back from North Ron involved a brief flight to Kirkwall (the Peedie Sea produced Long-tailed Ducks and a Black Swan) followed by an overnight stay before continuing the following morning with Kevin and Alison in their camper-van to South Ronaldsay where we took the ferry to Gills Bay.    A brief stop at John O' Groats was followed by a long journey south to Inverness and then finishing the journey by coach to London.  The ferry crossing produced a couple noteworthy birds including Great Northern Divers, 2 Bonxies, Puffin, Black Guillemots and Long-tailed Ducks.

I'd barely recovered from the journey but decided that a visit to Staines Res the day after I got back from Scotland (21st November) wouldn't hurt. Reward in the form of 3 Scaup, large numbers of Tufted Duck, Mallard, Pochard, Wigeon, lesser numbers of Teal, Gadwall, Shoveler and Goldeneye.

Employing the North Ron birding style on my patch by walking as many hedrows as possible and zig-zagging across the fields was well worth the effort Ephraim and I invested. The patch produced numerous Goldcrests, Redwings, Fieldfares, Song Thrushes and Blackbirds erupting around us as we walked the periphery of the fields. Despite the mild winter, the technique paid dividends with the highlight being my first patch Woodcock bursting from cover and making a bid for freedom over the nearest tall hedge. Yellowhammers were also present around much of the farmland along with lesser numbers of Bullfinches, the occasional Little Owl and other wildlife in the form of a Red Admiral and Fox.

A second visit to Staines Res and Moor with Ephraim produced a total of 7 Water Pipits along the banks of the River Colne, a Jack Snipe, 2 Cetti’s Warblers, Stonechats and flyover Siskins.