Archives 2016

Silent End

Normally the nature reserve "Garstadter Seen" is a top destination for observing waterfowl of all kind, at least until the temperature drops under 0 °C like on this 29th December. Almost the complete front part of the lake which is visible from the observation tower was frozen and offered therefore virtually no birds. Despite of this real disappointment I decided to take the 4 km circuit walk in the hope of maybe finding a Great Grey Shrike or something else good. 

At first it looked just as disillusioning as in the beginning but finally I encountered some water birds in the backpart of the reserve, mostly Tufted Ducks but also a couple of Goldeneyes and Pochards. Not great but definitely better than nothing.
Fortunately, these weren't the only birds: Just a few hundred meters from the last view on the lake the high pitched calls of several Tits, Goldcrests and Treecreepers attracted my attention. I only needed to wait a short time until the tiny songbirds got used to my presence and allowed me to get very close to them. Additionally, the golden evening light was perfectly illuminating the bushes creating a wonderful atmosphere.


So the great birding year 2016 ends silently without a rarity or something similar. However, considering the many cool birds that I could observe this year like Germany's first Syrian Woodpecker, the Pygmy Cormorant of the Goldbergsee or my first Caspian Tern, there can be no doubt that 2016 has been an exceptional birding year. Now I hope to return soon on this blog in 2017 with new sightings from Franconia and other interesting stuff like new sites or difficult birds. Unfortunately, there will certainly be fewer posts than 2016 but I try to keep the blog regularly up to date. Let's see what the next year brings.

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Finally Birding

Far too much time has passed since my last birding trip and I've missed far too many good birds. Anyway, today I finally tried my luck again in the hope of finding my own good birds. My first try was the "Ochsenanger", a medium sized quarry pond 15 km north of Bamberg, where I haven't been for a long while. Regardless of this, the situation looked rather disappointing on the first glance, as the only birds of interest seemed to be some Gadwalls near the opposite shore. Fortunately, I decided to spend a bit more time here and walked to the hide at its west shore. This turned out to be a good idea, since I caught up there with a Meadow Pipit (quite rare at this time of the year) and a group of four "Northern" Bullfinches, more precisely with four individuals that uttered the strange "trumpet call". Always a delight to see this taxon.


Leaving therefore the "Ochsenanger" not completely unsatisfied, I went to the neighbouring "Röckelein Baggersee", which normally is quite productive in the winter. This was already confirmed when I arrived, since a group of Common Gulls was feeding in the fields next to the quarry pond. Despite of this good start, the lake held not too many birds, in fact just a couple of Tufted Ducks and Goosanders. Nevertheless, it was worth to scan the lake with the scope, as I detected also two Red breasted Merganser among the latter.


Finally, already on the way back home, I made a small detour to the harbour of Bamberg, which is a good place for observing gulls. Fortunately, the number of Black-headed Gulls has risen since my last visit, which normally increases the chance of finding something good. This proved to be true, because I found along with another four Common Gulls a 1st winter Caspian and Yellow legged Gull. Definitely not bad for the season and the short duration of the visit. Let's see what comes next, when the temperature drops as predicted by the weather forecast.

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Winter comes fast

The last four weeks have been very exciting for the birdwatchers in Franconia. As it got colder, some interesting species could be observed at various places. One of the highlights was without doubt a Siberian Chiffchaff at the Altmühlsee in the end of October that stayed there for a couple of days. Stunning as well were the sightings of two Snow Buntings in northern Upper Franconia, a species which doesn't appear even annually so far south. One individual (1cy male) has even characters of the islandic/scottish subspecies insulae.


But even apart from the rarities anything points towards a good birding winter: There at least from my point of view notably more records of species like Bean Goose, Velvet Scoter and Great Grey Shrike. I'm convinced that this comes from the weather conditions in North-East Europe, which is probably the reason why there have been such exceptional numbers and records of far eastern rarities.
Anyway, winter is approaching fast. We will see what comes next.




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Finally in the field again

And again two weeks have passed. As it is currently raining and even snowing almost all around the clock, it's not easy to find a suitable gap for a birding walk. Fortunately, Wednesday, the 26th October, was one of these rare good days, when I could spend the full afternoon in the field. Like in the years before I focuse my attention in the end of October on the Sander Baggersee Ost, where I've been rewarded more than just once (see here for example).


It felt good to breath fresh air again and scan the many common birds for rare guests. I was happy to find already on the first meters a large mixed flock of Reed Buntings, Yellowhammers, Linnets and Serins which was feeding in the vegetation on the embankment. Really surprising however was a single Stonechat that had obviously joined the latter. Apart from the known breeding sites this species has become a rare migrant in Franconia and is therefore always a highlight on a birding walk.
A quick look on the lake produced one of the larger white-headed gulls (either Yellow-legged or Caspian), some hundred geese and my first Pintails of the autumn. 

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Norfolk II - Blakeney Point

As there currently is nothing interesting to report from the franconian birdlife, I come back once again to my Norfolk holidays in early August (see here for part 1). This post features my birding experience on Blakeney Point, an oddly shaped peninsula  next to the Cley Marshes. According to my guide this place must be a unique location to find rare migrants in the autumn and hosts furthermore a large mixed tern colony. Despite the fact that August is neither a good time for migrants nor for breeders, I decided to give this place a chance.


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Early October Update

Common Chiffchaff
Common Chiffchaff
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Between the peaks

It's mid September and bird migration is in full swing. What else could a birder wish more? This motivation leaded me almost every morning to a birding walk in the hope of finding the one rare bird amongst the masses of resting migrants. Nevertheless, this sadly turned out to be just wishful thinking.


First, the number of resting waders quickly decreased, although some lakes close by offered excellent mudbanks. In the most cases there was just a single individual of one of the more common species.


Second - and even more annoying - I missed a very rare Barred Warbler, which was seen just 20 km from my home. I spent a frustrating afternoon searching the inconspicious bird, however without success.


Yet it would be unfair just to talk about the things I haven't seen, because the Tuesday (13th Sept) was a real exception in this regard. In the morning I had been busy in the district of Eichstätt, but on the way back I managed a stop at the Altmühlsee, which is without doubt one of the best birdwatching sites in Franconia. Despite of the fact that it was a rather "silent" day with relatively few waders, it was a real compensation for all the "slow" birding-days before: Dozens of Lapwings and Curlews, two hardly identifiable Temminck's Stints and as a highlight a Bar-tailed Godwit. Altogether I nearly spent two hours on the big observation tower scanning the waders again and again, a real delight! Birding in its purest form.

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Yellow Wagtails in the autumn

Blue-headed Wagtail (left) and Wheatear (right)
Blue-headed Wagtail (left) and Wheatear (right)

I know, it's been a long while since the last update, but I've been very busy over the last weeks and had no time for keeping this blog up to date. Originally this post was planned three weeks earlier (last update: 28.08.16), so here it finally is:


Today I wanted to find some resting raptors and maybe even a flock of the seclusive Dotterel. The mainly agricultural land around the small village Merkendorf looked very nice on the first glance, however there wasn't much of interest and so I soon turned around. On my way home I came shortly afterwards along a field that was alive with various passerines. Having yet a lot of time left I grabbed my binoculars and scanned the field carefully.


After a couple of minutes it was clear that the major part of the birds were without doubt Yellow Wagtails. This very fact might not seem so intriguing, however I was amazed how variable the plumage of the various wagtails was. I can only imagine that the particular individuals start moulting differently and are therefore in a different moult stage. While in the spring especially the colourful males are often identified on subspecies level - as the plumage is fresh and shows all the necessary features-, this becomes very difficult in the autumn, since many plumage characters are no longer visible. Nevertheless, I was able to pick out at least one Grey-headed Wagtail (Motacilla flava thunbergi), because the bird showed dark ear corvets and a slim broken supercillium. Apart from that there was a great variety of wagtails of which I can't be absolutely sure.


I've picked out three exemplary male Yellow Wagtails from my photos:


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A week of waders

Common Snipes and a Wood Sandpiper
Common Snipes and a Wood Sandpiper

It has been quite a busy week, even so busy that I didn't have time for writing blog posts about my last sightings. So here is finally the late summary of a superb birding week.


After the sucessful twitch of the Pygmy Cormorant I had no real plans for the next days and where to go birding instead. As normally when this question raises, I paid my favourite reserve a visit, the Großer Wörth. Contrary to my earlier fears, the mudbanks were exposed and filled with hundreds of geese, cormorants and herons. So my hope grew that I would find also some of my beloved waders among these.


A few minutes later I had set up my scope at the opposite shore scanning the sandbanks. The result was mainly average with the highlight being five Snipes joined by the more common Wood, Green and Common Sandpipers. As already implied this is not bad, but it still can't compete with some fabulous days in the past when there were almost twice as many waders. To be honest, it looks to me as if the reserve has become less attractive for birds in general over the last years, perhaps caused by the worse water quality? The future will tell.


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Norfolk I - Cley Marshes

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Pygmy Cormorant near Coburg

I had just left Bamberg for holidays when the news reached me that two rarities had turned up in Franconia. The first was a Short-toed Eagle at the Förmitzspeicher (district of Hof) and the second a Pygmy Cormorant at the Goldbergsee (district of Coburg). Of course I thought at first that I wouldn't get a chance to see even one of them having yet seven days of my holidays ahead. And - as expected - it took no longer than two days until the Short-toed Eagle finally left the Förmitzspeicher.

Anyway, last weekend I came back and was delighted to see on that the Pygmy Cormorant was still on-site. The plans for today were therefore quickly made. 


To make it short, having arrived at the lake at 10 am it took only a couple of minutes until I spotted the rare guest at its favoured place, a dead branch in the NE-corner of the "Biotopsee" (northern half). Although the bird could be seen fantastically, the great distance and the heat wave made it difficult to photograph it. So most of my pictures are a bit artistic, like the one below:

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Where will the waders go?

July seems to end like it has started: quiet. My recent birding walks were all average with some nice photo opportunities in between. Only my trip to the Garstadter Seen last week was a real exception in this regard, as the circuit walk produced a total of 64 species including sightings of the sought-after Little Bittern and Purple Heron. However, despite it was a wonderful morning with beautiful light, I don't have many decent photos from there.  Obviously, one can't get everything.


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The other half

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Striking Woodpecker

Two days ago I was asked to have a look on the pictures of a striking woodpecker found in the "Luisenhain" in Bamberg. It appeared to be a normal male Great Spotted Woodpecker, though the link between the neck and the post-auricular stripe was missing. This raised of course the question, if the bird might not be a hybrid Syrian x Great Spotted. However, any other feature like the amount of white in the tail or the extension of red on the neck was definitely pro Great Spotted Woodpecker. I wasn't sure, if the missing link could justify a hybrid and so I wanted to see the bird in real life.


Fortunately, I could spare two hours in the evening and waited for some woodpecker action at the place, where it was seen yesterday. It took however almost 1 1/2 h until I found the hoped-for woodpecker completely unexpected preening on a branch. For half an hour I observed it very well and so I took lots of record shots. These pictures reveal that any feature beside the missing link points towards Great Spotted Woodpecker: The white on the tail extended to t4 (far too much for Syrian), there are five white bars on the primaries instead of three in Syrian, the red on the nape doesn't reach the crown and the shape of the bill is too bulky for Syrian. Most important however is the fact, that when the bird was shaking, a small black bridge between the post-aurical stripe and the neck became visible (see the last picture for that).


I don't know how to judge this feature, but since anything else definitely doesn't indicate the influence of a Syrian Woodpecker, I'm now convinced that this bird is just a weird Great Spotted Woodpecker. Yet, I'm interested in any opinion about the bird.

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Quiet July

July is a hard month for birders in Franconia (and elsewhere), as autumn migration is not yet visible and breeding time is already at its end. Additionally, most passerines have stopped singing, which makes them particularly difficult to find. Correlating with the small bird activity in general my birding activity has also come to a low point in the year.


Yet I was very surprised that the 4th July actually was an exception in this regard: On this day I had visited the Goldbergsee near Coburg again, since I wanted to test the second circuit walk there.

Unlike my first visit there was a blue sky right from the beginning, which was firmly in the hands of myriads of Swifts and Hirundines. Since of the early time of day, they were yet flying very low and I could therefore enjoy this spectacle from short distance. Of course, I wanted more than just watching them and "tried" to take pictures, but soon I had to realize that Swifts really deserve their name. After 15  minutes of concentrated camera work, which resulted in a single showable photo, I turned my attention to some easier motives, namely waterbirds with their juveniles. While doing so I flushed a Common Sandpiper from the shore, probably the first sign of autumn migration. This is very annoying, since this bird had been very close and would have given me the first chance for a proper photo of this species.

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A glance beyond the border

On this morning I went northwards to the former inner-German border, which marked the end of the western world just 30 years ago. It's hard to believe but this is and was only an hour's drive away from Bamberg. At that time the 1400 km long border was a hostile place, now it is an attractive area for several rare birds like Whinchat and Stonechat. On I couldn't find many sightings from there, but the area southwest of Adelhausen, the so called "Bischofsau", looked very promising.


However, I wasn't really prepared for the trip and so I already faced the first problems at the very beginning. I had selected a path that runs parallel to the former border and should therefore offer perfect opportunities for observing my target species. Yet it turned out to be a narrow grassy path that leads through an impassable reed area. Therefore I had no choice but to take a longer variant by going around this part of the Bischofsau. Nevertheless, after 45 minutes I came to the right path and immediately encountered a juvenile Whinchat as compensation. This species seems to be abundant in this area, since I further on spotted two singing males in the next minutes plus another pair near Adelhausen at the end.

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Lange Rhön - Viewed from another perspective

Finally, I could make another trip to the nature reserve "Lange Rhön" possible. The mountain range in the midst of Germany is one of the most important breeding areas in (Southern) Germany and my favourite birding site, not least because it is fairly unknown among german birders. This is the reason why I want to change the chapter about this site radically so that not only single spots but the whole area and its beauty are highlighted. Therefore I have selected an awarded hiking tour that connects anything of interest in the area to a large circuit walk with a total length of 14.8 km.


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Birding before the heat

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Do ut des *

* Latin for I give so that you will give

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Third Chance

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Birding at the Goldbergsee

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Lower Franconia Tour

Some time ago I said that there would be another edition of the guide, which will include a couple of new sites and will generally be more detailed. Today I can officially announce that I've started with the development process. However, before I can create maps and write the texts, I want to visit these new sites at least once, in order to get some basis information (e.g. how much time should you consider for a visit, etc.).


This describes the purpose of my Lower Franconia Tour perfectly and so I started in the morning with another very reliable site for one of the highlight species of Franconia, the Ortolan Bunting. I selected for that the Dorfkulturweg around the village Willanzheim, an one-hour-drive away from Bamberg. While the weather had looked rather promising in Bamberg, the sky was almost completely clouded when I arrived at 8 am at Willanzheim.


Nevertheless, it was still a very nice walk, that reliably delivered Ortolan Bunting, Corn Bunting and Turtle Dove, even if there weren't many chances for photos. Only Montagu's Harrier and Collared Flycatcher didn't work, but especially for the latter it might already be a bit late in the year, at least the song activity had already tended to zero a week ago.

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News from the Mixed Singer

A month ago I posted that I had found the mixed singer again, which caused a lot of interest in 2015. If you want to get some basis information about the bird please look on the special site I've established for this bird.


Despite that I had planned to visit this bird more regularly than last year, I didn't come to this place for a whole month. Nevertheless, in the last couple of days I had some pretty successful hours there and some news to tell.


As you can imagine I was mainly recording its vocalisations and taking a lot of photos, in order to document this bird as good as possible. The really interesting fact however is that obviously a second individual, which is now and then singing a "mixed" strophe, has occupied a territory close by. Generally, it looks rather similar with a brown uperside and a white underside. However, it has yet a lot more yellow and olive tones in its feathers, which is why it looks a bit more normal.


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Neusiedl Effect

Somehow my visit of Lake Neusiedl must have had an effect on my birding activities, since I saw quite a lot of superb bird species in the first days after I had arrived from my holidays. It started with a trip to the Großer Wörth, where I hoped to connect with a Little Bittern, a species that I hadn't seen at Lake Neusiedl.
I had just set up my scope, when I looked on the water in front of the observation tower and detected two long-necked birds crossing the lake, unfortunately too fast for my camera. However, I found them in the reed again and could confirm my assumption with a glance through my binoculars, two Little Bitterns.


Not a bad start, I thought, but soon this nice sighting was dwarfed by the news of a Purple Heron, that two birders had observed a few minutes before that. I looked through my scope again, focused on one of the trees and had the Purple Heron.


As I couldn't take a picture of any of these cool heron species, I can only show you a selection of the "usual" birds you're likely to encounter on a walk around the lake.

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... and lots of birds (Pt. 3)

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Sun and Wetlands ... (Pt. 2)

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Rain und Highlands (Pt. 1)

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Symphony of Fate

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Long Awaited

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Return of an unsolved mystery

Finally, the announced birding break is over. Unlike expected I was a couple of times outside, but still I didn't have enough time to post here. So in a few days I'll report about my other sightings, but today the indisputable highlight is featured here, a bird I never awaited to see again.


It was Monday evening when I paid the landfill near Gaustadt a visit, a nice little site with breeding Whitethroats, Red-backed Shrikes and others. Honestly, if I had expectations then only to get some nice photos and not to see what I actually saw. Understandably, I was nearly paralyzed when I heard a bird song, which was unfamiliar and yet so familiar to me: It's hardly believable but the (presumed) mixed singer has returned! The very bird that kept me busy for more than a month last year and still remains a mystery even to the top birders of Germany (and beyond). So far the best guess is that it's a mixed singer of Willow Warbler and Siberian Chiffchaff, which would however be a combination never recorded before.


Unfortunately, I didn't have much time and I just took a series of pictures and a video to document the bird. However, while it looked at the first glance rather identical to last year, the pictures revealed that it is greyer above and shows more yellow below. This means that it has lost its striking brown-white appearance of last year and looks more similar to the local Willow Warblers. Facing this visual difference I'm not even sure, if it's the same bird, which raises several new questions: Is this bird perhaps an offspring of the real mixed singer? What is the mixed singer? Is it a northern Willow Warbler (last year's mixed singer was definitely not a Central European)? And the list goes on and on.


Nevertheless, its return might give us the chance to solve its mystery. I hope that the bird gains enough attention so that it can be caught and its DNA can be analyzed. Currently, the bird is checked by the German Rarity Committee (DAK), but it must be expected that it will be rejected for obvious reasons.

So keep your fingers crossed! 

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Swift Swallows

April seems to have gone mad. A week ago we had temperatures of about 20 °C with blue skies and no rain at all, now we have 8 °C and an unpredictable mixture of sun, wind and snow showers. However, bird migration keeps still going on, almost as if it wouldn't even have noticed it. Sadly, my free time is now rather limited and I won't have many chances to go outside in the next two weeks, so this might be the last post for some time. We'll see.


Originally, I didn't want to go birding this week either, but when news of a reddish Barn Swallow reached me, I couldn't resist. This is because mainly the subspecies of the Middle East (and North America) show reddish underparts in contrast to the european form rustica, which is cream coloured there. Of course, it's not as easy as it might sound right now, since the transitions are fluid. In fact, it seems almost impossible to identify Barn Swallows on subspecies level here in Central Europe at all. Fortunately, I soon received the answer of an experienced birder, who said that the moult stage is the key of ID.


Having now learned that it theoretically is possible to identify a non-european Barn Swallow, I finally gave the bird a try. However, I didn't expect that there were not only a few dozens but myriads of Swallows, House and Sand Martins. It simply was impossible to check every Swallow or even to get the necessary close-up shots. So I had to change my strategy and took pictures of any swallow which came close enough. 


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Staying grounded

What did I say about rarities not coming to Bamberg? Just two hours after I pressed the "Publish"-button I received a message that on a quarry pond nearby three Caspian Terns and two Avocets were seen. Both are at most very scarce migrants in the inland and neither of them was ever recorded in the district of Bamberg to my knowledge. Unfortunately, it was already dark outside when I got the e-mail and so I had to wait until the next day.


As life goes it was already 2 pm when I finally could pay the quarry pond a visit. So the chances of actually finding the terns were minimal from the start. After scanning the lake diligently for about 15 minutes it was definite what I had expected, no terns or Avocets.


Fortunately, spring is a very pleasant season for the birdwatcher, because even when your target species isn't to be found, you can be sure of seeing something else. In my case it was a nice selection of common passerines singing in the bushes and in the rapeseed fields.

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Five Minutes

Here we are again. Every day now thousands of migrants come through and also the number of rarities increases from time to time. Well, perhaps not here in Bamberg but especially at the Altmühlsee some remarkable birds were spotted like two Black-necked Stilts and a Sandwich Tern.


The last days have however been quite uneventful around Bamberg, mostly because I'm rather busy at the moment. Nevertheless, I spent an evening in the Luisenhain to find the potential Collared Flycatcher again, but was shocked that there were only two Pied Flycatchers. Perhaps next time.


After a long break I also went to the Kreuzberg again, which I had neglected for some time now. Highlight was a Lesser Redpoll, that got surprisingly close to me. However, apart from that my walk didn't produce much of interest. In this respect I'm a bit disappointed, because everywhere else large numbers of long-distance migrants have already arrived like Golden Oriole or Ortolan Bunting.


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Flycatchers in front of my lens

Two days ago I got a new camera, more precisely a Nikon Coolpix P900 with 83x optical zoom (equivalent 2000 mm). This is quite much compared to my current telephoto lens (Tamron 150 - 600 mm) and also to the magnification of my scope. However, I had to wait until today morning for testing it under real-life conditions and not only through the window.


When I arrived at 7am at the car park of the Luisenhain the sun was already shining brightly and a chorus of dozens of songbirds sounded through the wood. My main target species were the Pied Flycatchers, which had arrived and obtained their territories a week ago. On the way to the first traditional nestboxes I made some test shots with the new camera, which were however of very poor quality due to the low light. As a matter of fairness I have to add here that my DSLR also had problems there.


After half an hour, when the light conditions had eventually improved, I finally found the first singing Pied Flycatcher,  which was always switching between "its" nestbox and some exposed branches getting sometimes very close to me. Here I spent a couple of minutes experimenting with the new camera and its settings. See below for the results.

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An afternoon with waterfowl

After an almost endless time without birding it was a real pleasure to spend two hours at the Hochreinsee today. This birding abstinence had the mere effect that a great range of migrants have yet been missing on my year list. Time to change that!


Fortunately also the weather was just perfect on afternoon with a lot sunshine and almost no wind. So I could really enjoy to observe and photograph the birdlife there. In fact, I scored three year ticks, the first was a male Cuckoo, followed by a Little Ringed Plover on the gravel banks and finally by a singing Wryneck. So far a great success!


However, apart from these ornithological highlights I mainly focused on taking pictures and due to the good light conditions I managed some decent shots. Hopefully it's not the last time that I could get out this month!


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And the Alps come down on us

Over the last days a never seen influx of Alpine Accentors has been witnessed almost everywhere in Germany, which were sometimes accompanied by the even rarer White-winged Snowfinches. The first of these alpine passerines have already reached the coast, but at the moment chances are best at the highest low mountain ranges (Schwarzwald, Fichtelgebirge, Rhön, etc.). Unfortunately, I'm very busy at the moment and won´t have a chance to visit some of the potential resting sites.


In Franconia there has so far been only one sighting of two Alpine Accentors which were seen on the plateau of the Schneeberg in the Fichtelgebirge. However, there are more potentially sites in the Fichtelgebirge like the "Platte" or the "Ochsenkopf", which should also be checked.

Furthermore, the Rhön also offers good resting habitats, especially on the higher altitudes. By now two different groups of Alpine Accentors and at least two White-winged Snowfinches were reported from the hessian part of the Rhön (see here and here), in the bavarian/franconian part no one even searched!


The next couple of days should be very interesting!

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April hits with force

It have only been five days since my trip into the Fichtelgebirge, but a lot has changed in the meanwhile. Now all common short-distance migrants have reached Bamberg and almost everywhere Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs, Serins and Black Redstarts can be heard singing.


Unfortunately, my birding activities are currently restricted to my daily bicycle ride between Bischberg and Bamberg, where I only get aware of a small glimpse of bird migration. Nevertheless, in the last couple of days I encountered some nice year ticks. The first was a singing Common Redstart in my neighbourhood, which however remained unseen on this day. Yet I´m convinced that it won't have to stay alone for too long. 


Over the last weekend the temperatures have finally climbed to 20 °C and as it has stayed warm until today I spent an hour with birdwatching in hope of some more year ticks. Considering this small time budget I had no choice but to visit my patch, which I had anyway neglected in the first weeks of 2016.


All in all I´m rather pleased with what I saw. Skylarks, Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps are now industriously singing already joined by the first Tree Pipit, while Yellowhammers and Robins are rather calm at the moment. Fortunately, I invested some time in scanning the dense hedges, because my first Lesser Whitethroat of the year was absolutely silent and only visible for seconds. Finally, I heard some flying over Blue-headed Wagtails and a Pied Flycatcher, immediately before I left the site, both were year ticks.


Being waked up by the sound of various bird songs every morning, spring cannot be denied. Hopefully, some rarer birds turn up soon.


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Birding Wonders of Franconia's Far East

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Finally, spring

Most birders have a bird whose arrival marks the start of spring for them: Swallows, Wheatears and many more. For me it's the Bluethroat, a melodious gem which breeds in reasonable numbers along the valley of the river Main and is always a joy to hear and see. So I was delighted that yesterday the first individuals were seen at my favourite site the "Großer Wörth". The main problem with this species is that the chances of seeing one are only good for a few weeks, since afterwards they stop singing and are then almost impossible to find in the favoured large reed belts. 


Today however they were singing loudly and were sometimes even perched on exposed branches, which made some decent shots possible. From the observation tower at the "Großer Wörth" I observed furthermore a nice Black Kite, dozens of Swallows and my first House Martin of the year. The air was filled with the songs of Chiffchaffs, Dunnocks and the first Willow Warblers. In sum three year ticks within the first couple of minutes, not a bad start!


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Redwings on the patch

Yesterday it was raining all day which caused that bird migration paused. So I thought - in hope of better wetter - that today should theoretically be rather good for a migration count. However, when I went to my local patch this morning, the clouds were still hanging quite low and no bird was flying over me. Instead, almost every bush was filled with singing birds, whereby the most seemed to wait for better weather conditions. Most conspicious were the numerous Redwings (see pictures below) with their melancholical song, which sound so different to the local Song Thrushes and Blackbirds. All in all there must have been some hundred thrushes feeding on the fields and in the fruit trees.


In fact it took at least another hour until the first birds dared to resume their journey. In the course of the next hour I counted more than 1100 Wood Pigeons and 170 Fieldfares migrating northwards. Both reasonable numbers, but there was unfortunately little else. Just as I was about to pack up, an Osprey and five Common Cranes were flying over me. With these two very cool species and my first singing Chiffchaff of the year I came in sum to 40 species, which is a proper result.

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Buntings on the rocks

Finally, a whole morning of birdwatching. Originally I had planned to spend the day in the Fichtelgebirge, a mountain range with a huge birding potential, but the weather forecast reported snow fall there, so I spontaneously changed my plans. Instead I went to the valley of the river Main north of Würzburg, where I hoped to connect with my first Rock Buntings in 2016.


My first destination was the "Grainberg", which is also featured in the guide, because it is to my knowledge the most reliable site for this species. Fortunately, also the weather played along and I enjoyed a lot of sunshine in the first hours, very supportive for photographing. In fact I didn´t have to wait along, until I spotted the first Rock Bunting, though it was quite distant and always sitting in a bush. A few hundred meters after that I reached the first vineyards, which are quite typical for the region and offer perfect habitat for the buntings. Here I encountered even two different individuals, which also nicely posed on the posts.

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Complete Set of Spotted Woodpeckers

I hope that all birders agree that there is no better way to enjoy a sunny and wonderful afternoon than to go birding, especially when you have a site like the "Luisenhain" nearby. As I´ve visited the latter quite frequently over the last weeks and posted regularly about my sightings there, I think it´s not necessary to write much about my walk, because the species list isn´t very different to the one of my visit before that.


Nevertheless, today I want to highlight a special bird for me, which I finally succeeded to observe: the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. Of course it wasn´t my very first, but this individual was the first which I could actually "observe". In comparison to its larger brothers it´s less conspicious and furthermore restricted to areas with deadwood, which makes it a lot trickier to find. So I was really pleased to watch this gorgeous male drumming and feeding in the trees. Since the light was already fading to that point of time, the quality of my picture isn´t as good as I had hoped. Perhaps next time ...

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All good birds are worth waiting for

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Sunshine, at last

Finally after several days of cold and foggy mornings there was a sunny day here in Bamberg. Having been fortunate enough to have a bit of spare time on afternoon I went once again to the Luisenhain. Generally, the species list doesn´t differ much from my last visits, but due to the improved light conditions it was a real joy to photograph birds. Even the elusive Middle Spotted Woodpecker nicely posed for a couple of shots.


As it is very easy to get close-up shots of a large row of birds, I´m very keen on visiting this place again soon. For now there is a selection of my best pictures:

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A little bit of birding

The last few days were quite eventful and I was really surprised that I had been able to go regularly out birding, although the weather had proven to be difficult in this period. It all started on Friday with harsh easterly winds, a grey sky and a bit of rain. As the weather hadn´t looked very promising in advance, I decided just to visit the Sander Baggersee, where I didn´t need to walk far away from the car. However there were almost no water birds on the lake apart from 12 Goldeneyes, a Yellow-legged and a Caspian Gull. So I was further on able to make a detour to the "Großer Wörth" hoping to see perhaps even my first Lapwings of the year, but my favourite site turned out to be a blank, which was very shocking as this hasn´t been the case for almost two years.


Having therefore been tired of waterfowl I visited after that only sites, where I was absolutely sure to see the birds I was hoping for, e.g. the Luisenhain. On these walks I found mainly park- and woodland birds, which I really like to observe, although they are not easy to photograph. Generally, the most song birds have already started to sing again, most conspicious are of course the various woodpeckers, but also Chaffinches, Blackbirds and Tits are now rather striking. Additionally, the first Woodlarks and Song Thrushes have reached the district of Bamberg and it certainly won´t take too long until the first Chiffchaffs appear in the region. Regardless of this, spring has almost arrived.


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Another gap

Once again there was an unexpected but hoped for gap in my schedules and so I spent a nice hour with birdwatching in the Luisenhain. The popular park at the southern edge of Bamberg is the perfect place nearby for photographing woodland and parkland birds, because the most birds have adapted to the regular appearance of humans and are therefore very confiding.

So it took no more than five minutes to spot the first motive, a Nuthatch. Without even taking notice of my presence it came as close as two meters feeding on the ground. The pictures below are not cropped, only their size was reduced.

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A little bit of everything

The last two weeks were strange: One the one side I generally didn´t have much time for birding, what I had already mentioned in the last blog post, and on the other side the weather was fairly unpredictable. Whenever I would have had one or two spare hours, there were showers, snow falls or harsh easterly winds.


Last Thursday there was finally one of the small gaps, where also the weather played along. So I paid the harbour of Bamberg a brief visit, but there were only few Black-headed Gulls and a single 1st winter Mew Gull. Even less productive was the now refilled Stocksee at the eastern edge of Bamberg on Sunday afternoon, where 11 Pochards were the most interesting birds to be seen.


Fortunately, I managed, furthermore, to get outside for a few hours this afternoon enjoying the blue sky and some waterfowl. My destination was the "Baggersee Roßstadt Süd" an interesting quarry pond at the western border of the district. Among the hundreds of Coots I found four Goldeneyes, two Gadwalls and three Goosanders. No reason to jump for joy, but after the birding abstinence of the last weeks it was a truly pleasant afternoon, which was nicely rounded up by a small flock of Linnets, which were quite photogenic.


Over the last weeks the observations of Lapwings, Skylarks and other short-distance-migrants have increased on, a clear sign that the spring is coming. While the first ones are still missing for the year list, I´ve already heard the first flocks of Skylarks moving northward, however I´ve so far had only short views of the latter.

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A glance into the future

Another week has passed and sadly I didn´t have any time for birding. Looking on my schedule for the next weeks I definitely have to admit that I won´t have so much free time as until recently. I don´t know how exactly this lack of time will affect my birding activities, but it certainly has to be awaited that there will be less posts on average on this website.


Nevertheless, this gives me time to address an important subject, which I wanted to feature much earlier. As you will for sure know, I´ve published a birding guide for Franconia. So far, the guide has been received well (e.g. here) and I´m very grateful for that. However, recently I´ve been asked, whether I´m going to update the guide and the site descriptions on this website. Of course I said yes. There will be a 2nd edition of "A Birdwatcher's guide to Franconia", though because of this lack of time most likely not in 2016.


And there is the problem: For many sites there are only insufficient data. Nonetheless, soon I´m going to publish anything I have collected over the last months, which means that the descriptions of these "new" sites will be less detailed and shorter at first. However, whenever I get new information, I´ll add it to the particular site descriptions.


So the main goal for 2016 is to collect and improve data. Please, when you note mistakes or have additional information, whether to particular site descriptions or to the guide, feel free to contact me. Any kind of feedback is helpful.


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New Gulls

As mentioned yesterday I´ll come back to gulls. Finding interesting gulls in the inland is very tricky, especially because there are no major gull roosts, at least not in Franconia. However I found out that the harbour of Bamberg hosts a minor but occasionally interesting gull roost in the winter. Back in January I encountered some nice individuals there, even an immature Herring Gull, which is very rare here and for me the first of this age. Given the fact that I don´t see a lot of gulls, it´s obvious that I have also not much experience in identifying them and the only way to change this is to look at gulls, to look at a lot of gulls. Basically, this was my plan for today.


Altogether I spent four hours at the harbour scanning the gulls very carefully with my new scope. As expected the most (~ 700 ind.) were Black-headed Gulls, which are no ID problem at all. Among them I found also two Mew Gulls, both 1st winter birds. So far not so difficult, now the trickier birds are following: I was able to identify at least two immature Caspian Gulls, which are rather conspicious, since they are pretty long legged and have a flat forehead.

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Recent updates

Looking through my photos from the last days I realized that there are a lot of new things which are worth to get mentioned here. First of all, I have a new scope since Tuesday, a Swarovski ATS 65 HD with a  25 - 50 x WW eyepiece. The last waterfowl count in January reminded me of the limits of my former spotting scope, a Nikon ED50. Before buying a scope I wanted to have a look through it at first and so I went all the way to Munich on Tuesday. So far I haven´t yet been able to test it properly, but in a few days I´m going to report more on the scope.


Next is the Velvet Scoter, which I had seen on the quarry pond of Oberhaid a week ago. The first winter male had been present at least since November, but until last week I hadn´t been able to spot it. Furthermore, I have got a feedback to the gulls, which I had seen in the last week of January. As it turned out the identification of the first unidentified gull as Herring Gull was correct, the second one seems to be a Caspian Gull. Perhaps I´ll come back to this topic soon.


Enough of that. As you will remember the weather is rather unpredictable here at the moment and this morning seemed to be no exception. Nonetheless, I still wanted to test my new scope and took it for it a short walk to my local patch. All in all it was very nice and I enjoyed very close views of both Green and Great Spotted Woodpecker. Furthermore, I heard a Skylark calling, the first one of the year.

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ID of Syrian Woodpecker

Having absolutely no opportunity for birding at the moment, I decided rather to go through my notes of the Syrian Woodpecker, which I had taken last Saturday. Yes, I know, it´s the fourth post about this woodpecker in a row. However, I think that it is very important to pay more attention to the differentiation of Greater Spotted Woodpecker and Syrian Woodpecker. Both species look almost identical at first glance, though the identification is rather easy, when you know for what you should look out. Recently there had been some rumours on the internet that the Syrian Woodpecker might already be an overlooked breeder in Germany, which hadn´t yet been discovered, because birders hadn´t looked close enough on Great Spotted Woodpeckers. Therefore it makes sense to shed some light on how to identify a Syrian Woodpecker.



So what attracted my attention at the Kronach-bird (SW: Syrian Woodpecker; GSW: Great Spotted Woodpecker):

  • The jizz. When I first looked on the bird without considering any ID-features, I knew that this bird was not one of the normal GSW. I think that the subtle differences between GSW and SW let the latter appear to have a more "open face". This caused that the woodpecker looked even for the local residents strange, although they were not able to actually pin down what was looking strange. 
  • Most important ID-feature is the missing link between the black moustachial stripe and the neck. This is also visible from longer distances. Last Saturday the bird was identified from a very large distance (200 meters minimum).
  • The red on the neck is far more extensive reaching to the crown. I never thought that this would be so obvious in the field even without having a GSW nearby for comparing.
  • Finally the feathers at the base of the bill are white in SW instead of black in GSW. This is not so important, because you need to get very close for seeing it. Nevertheless, it supports the appearance of the "open face".
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All good things come in threes

What for a day! Today has been the first sunny day since almost a week and because I had a lot of free time this afternoon, I decided to visit the Syrian Woodpecker, once again. Unlike last week a lot of birders where searching the woodpecker, at first without success. However 45 minutes after my arrival I got the hoped-for phone call and I was told that the woodpecker was feeding in a backyard at that time. Soon afterwards I was standing along with several other birders at a fence enjoying my first real views of the bird. After a few minutes eventually the bird flew away in southern direction. Fortunately it was soon found again in the fruit trees at the "Rodach", where it could marvellously be observed for 30 minutes.


Enough said, let´s come to the pictures. It´s very hard to select the best ones, if you have hundreds of nice pictures, but I think the selection documents the bird well. There couldn´t have been a better start into February!

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Syrian Woodpecker - next round

Yesterday I was disappointed by the rather elusive Syrian Woodpecker near Kronach and furthermore annoyed, when I found out later on that the bird showed nicely only one hour after I had left. In the end I turned out to be the only one who didn´t see that woodpecker.


Reason enough to try it again. Today. Unlike yesterday the weather wasn´t nice at all, it was windy, cold, the light was very bad and later on it also rained a bit. Additionally I was the only birder there, since the last ones had left the site in the morning (which had also had very nice views of the bird). So I started where I had stopped yesterday, wandering through the streets and looking for that woodpecker. Once again it didn´t look good, not even one of the more common woodpecker-species was to be seen. I met several residents who all asked me, whether I had already found it. Finally a woman told me that, although there was yet no trace of the woodpecker, I should still look out, stay at one place and listen to the rather distinctive call.


With this new strategy I finally detected the calls of the hoped-for woodpecker and spotted it while it was flying to the small river nearby. I only needed these few seconds to exclude the rather similar Great Spotted Woodpecker and here we are: Syrian Woodpecker, tick. After that it was still calling for a few more minutes but wasn´t to be seen anymore.


So all in all still a happy ending, though I still wonder why all the other birders got so nice views and also managed some extraordinary shots like this one.

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Mission Woodpecker - failed

Yesterday I said that I was going to go to Kronach, in order to see the Syrian Woodpecker, which is to my knowledge the first record of this species in Germany. And so I took in the morning the first for me possible train and finally arrived at 1 pm. To that time anything looked still fine and the sun was shining brightly. Nevertheless, soon afterwards I met the first birders who had also come for the woodpecker (the most travelled more than 300 kilometers) and I was told that it didn´t look good for seeing the hoped for woodpecker.


In fact a group of birders had been able to observe the woodpecker in the morning until 09:30 am, after that it flew away to the small river nearby and couldn´t be found again. However giving up was no option and so all birders were wandering through the streets looking and listening to what might be the searched for woodpecker. To make the story short, we weren´t able to locate the woodpecker and so I left the small town a bit disappointed at 15:12 pm.


Perhaps the elusive woodpecker turns up again and I can give it another try then.


Update (29.01.16, 19:30): Obviously the bird was found again between 4 pm and 5 pm, congratulations to all who stayed longer in Neuses than I did (although I didn´t have much of a choice). This means that I´m perhaps one of the very few birders who failed to see that woodpecker. What for a painful day!

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Return to the patch

It has been quite a while but today I returned to my patch. Altogether I spent two hours outside enjoying the winter sun. While I had originally planned to visit all parts of the site, in order to get a complete overview of the birdlife there, I soon focused on taking pictures, because the light was so beautiful and most birds were showy too. All in all it was rather quite, but I think that had to be expected.


Tomorrow I plan a trip to Kronach (60 km from Bamberg) to see the Syrian Woodpecker (first for Germany), that has been seen there for almost three days now. Wish me luck!


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Normally I´m cycling to Bamberg every day and on my way I also pass the harbour of Bamberg. While the large harbour basins don´t seem to be the best place for seeing good birds over the most time of the year, in the winter regularly gulls can be seen there. When I speak of gulls I mean Black-headed Gulls, which are by far the most common species here. Usually I´m not paying them too much attention, since there are only seldom interesting gulls among them.


Well, until today. After the cold wave of the last week the gull roost has increased a lot and so I took my binoculars with me this morning to scan the gulls for something of interest. Indeed, I found several Mew Gulls (Common Gulls) and some unidentifiable larger gulls. Reason enough to try it again on afternoon, this time with the scope and my camera.


Since I didn´t have much time, I focused on the tricky "larger" gulls. In sum I spotted seven different individuals. After watching them for quite a time I identified two Caspians and four Yellow-legged. So far not a bad quote for me, even though my experience in gull ID is very limited.


Nevertheless there were also two gulls, which I wasn´t able to pin down. The first one was standing next to a presumed Caspian Gull and while it was showing the same slender and three-coloured bill, its other features were pointing more towards Yellow-legged or Herring Gull. To make it short, I have no idea. The second one seemed to have the stature of a Mew Gull but was coloured like one of the larger gulls. So if you know, what these gulls are, please let me know.


Edit (27.01.16): After doing some research I´m now sure that the first mysterious gull should be a first winter Herring Gull. At first there is the general evenly brownish look of that gull, which is absolutely untypical for Caspian and, since it is also marked on the belly and breast, the same counts for Yellow-legged too. Finally the "notched" tertials are definitely indicating a Herring Gull. If I´m wrong (this bird would be my first Herring Gull of that age), please get in touch with me.

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The Joys of Common Birds


Now all quarry ponds are completely frozen and the waterfowl is now mainly found on the Main, which is not always well approachable.

Therefore it wasn´t easy to decide where to go instead.


Because a trip to any of my favourite sites would most likely have ended with no more than ten species, I turned my attention to a site that I had neglected over the last years, the Luisenhain in the south of Bamberg. The grove is mostly interesting in the spring, since it is perhaps the best place around Bamberg to find Pied Flycatchers and other "difficult" breeding species. In the winter however there are no such specialities but only common birds, that you can encounter almost everywhere.


All in all it was a nice spent time, which I used mainly for taking pictures despite of the bad light. I found all target species and in the most cases I was also able to photograph them. Only the elusive but plenty Middle Spotted Woodpeckers remained out of sight. However I was very astonished that there was a lot of waterfowl on the nearby river, most likely because the next quarry ponds are all frozen. The real highlight of the day remained the high number of Pochards, altogether I counted almost 40 individuals. This is the highest number of this species in the district of Bamberg this winter outnumbering even the "most profitable" quarry ponds like the Porznersee.

A few days ago it was posted on that the wintering Pochards have decreased and facing winters with almost 200 hundred Pochards on the Porznersee I can only confirm this trend. Hopefully the Scandinavian breeding population can recover from this.


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GPS-Tracking and Birds - Greater Spotted Eagle hybrid over Bamberg

Eastern Imperial Eagles (Lake Neusiedl, Austria) - no Great Spotted Eagles but a similarly rare eagle
Eastern Imperial Eagles (Lake Neusiedl, Austria) - no Great Spotted Eagles but a similarly rare eagle
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Carrion Crow with Common Buzzard
Carrion Crow with Common Buzzard

Since almost two weeks I was very busy during the week and had therefore no time for birdwatching. Nevertheless this afternoon I had finally two spare hours and also the weather looked rather fine for a short birding trip.


I chose the Oberhaider Baggersee, where an obviously long staying Velvet Scoter had been reported a few days ago. However it seemed that I had been a bit too optimistic, since I had simply neglected the fact that the temperature hasn´t climbed above 0 °C for a few days. This means that the whole quarry pond was frozen and held no waterfowl at all.


While I was checking the bushes on the shore for interesting passerines, I spotted a large bird sitting on the ice. It turned out to be a Common Buzzard, which was constantly picking on something on the ice. Of course I thought at first that it was feeding, however the bird didn´t change its position in the next 30 minutes. And so it finally occurred to me that the buzzard might be frozen in the ice.

After realizing that I made a phone call checking out the possibilities to save the buzzard. While doing that I saw that the buzzard finally tried again to start from the ice and eventually succeeded. 


So after all a happy end.


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