Blog

Here on this blog I report on some of my latest sightings including some of my notes on the franconian birdlife. I focus on the district of Bamberg, but the other regions of Franconia are respected as well of course.

 

If you´d like to get an overview of the last days, then you can visit the website www.ornitho.de . However when you´re not registered, you are only allowed to see the observations of the last seven days.



A trip to the North

After the rainy weekend it was a benefit to get out birding again. For today I had ambitiously planned to arrive at sunrise at the Teichwiesen of Stressenhausen, an interesting wetland area in South Thuringia (approximately an one-hour-drive from Bamberg away). Although it didn't worked exactly, I was greeted by perfect morning light in Stressenhausen. The navigation on site is rather simple: There is a signposted car park for the nature reserve at the southern edge of the village, from where a path leads you straight to an observation tower with information panels.

 

The Teichwiesen are in fact extensively used meadows, which have become so rare in Germany over the last decades. Therefore it is an excellent site for species like Snipe, Whinchat or Meadow Pipit. I spent a whole hour in the area and spotted a good mixture of birds, the highlights being Black Stork, Garganey and Greenshank. The only weird thing is that the last 100 meter you have to cross the pasture, which is enclosed by an electric fence. However, in practice it was rather simple, as there was an open gate.

Teichwiesen of Stressenhausen
Teichwiesen of Stressenhausen
Black Stork
Black Stork

Originally, I had planned to make some stops on my way back along the valley of the Main. Yet on my first detour it turned out that it has rained too much on the weekend. Therefore there aren't any sandbanks on the quarry ponds left, which are the only resting habitats for waders in the german inland. So the drive back was rather short with just a single hotspot remaining on the tour, the Abtissensee near Hallstadt. The small pond immediately next to the motorway junction of Bamberg is generally good for dabbling ducks and herons. Today I found altogether 13 Garganeys, which is a very high number regarding the size of the site. Furthermore I was astonished to find a hide at the shore! It's just an ordinary construction without roof, but it does its job.

new hide at the Abtissensee
new hide at the Abtissensee
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First Week of August

After the rather unspectacular July the first days of August were ornithologically astonishingly productive. In this period I've often visited the "Großer Wörth" area, as it turned out that for some reason it's currently the best place for observing waders here. However on my last walks I've only seen common species like Lapwing, Common Sandpiper and Little Ringed Plover. Nevertheless this isn't so strange for the season, since migration is just about to roll on. Hopefully the situation improves in the next weeks.

 

In fact it has been much more interesting to scan the bushes for passerines. With a bit of patience I managed to find a juvenile Bluethroat, five Penduline Tits (at least two juveniles) and three Red-backed Shrikes (minimum one juvenile). Therefore all three species must have bred somewhere in the area, which is fantastic, especially because Penduline Tits have become alarmingly rare.  

juvenile Bluethroat
juvenile Bluethroat
House Martins
House Martins

Today I've furthermore made a detour to the Hochreinsee, which quickly turned out to be a great idea. Shortly after I've reached the observation platform, I spotted a large dark bird soaring over me. It was an adult Black Stork, which was about to land nearby. However it didn't take long until the local Yellow-legged Gulls detected the intruder and drove it away. The next nice bird to come was a male Honey Buzzard that gained height over me. In the meantime one of the local Marsh Harriers explored the area and scared the waterfowl resting on the sandbanks. Among these there were already two Great White Herons, which will reach their maximum in the winter.

 

So, all in all it have been some exciting birding days, which compensated the long birdless time before.

Black Stork
Black Stork
Marsh Harrier
Marsh Harrier
juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls
juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls
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Summer Gull Delights

Recently I've visited the Hochreinsee again, which I haven't done for quite a while now. However, on the first glance it wasn't that exciting there, just the usual species like Greylag Goose, Great Reed Warbler and Marsh Harrier. Fortunately, I spent a bit more time at this place, as after a few minutes a group of large gulls circled over the lake. Of course, the most were certainly Yellow-legged Gulls, which is by far the most common species of these here in inland Germany. As it turned out a pair must have bred on the lake or close by, since there were also two juvenile individuals.

adult Yellow-legged Gull
adult Yellow-legged Gull

Yet a closer examination of the gulls produced furthermore a "weird" looking individual, which had most likely stayed the summer on the Hochreinsee last year as well. It shows many features of a Caspian Gull, e.g. the grey "tongues" on the primaries that cut deep in the blackish tip, the completely white p10, the lighter grey upperside etc.

Despite of these rather clear features it's not so easy to pin down a "pure" Caspian Gull here, as there are quite a lot of integrades between Yellow-legged and Caspian Gulls, that come from the mixed colonies in Eastern Germany. So I was told by a gull expert to use the term "gull with features of a Caspian Gull". Unfortunately, I have never been able to read its ring which would certainly help to enlighten this mystery.

putative Caspian Gull
putative Caspian Gull

Nevertheless, the best bird of the day was definitely this Lesser Black-backed Gull that had apparently joined the other gulls. This species is a rather unusual guest so far in the inland and appears normally in the winter months. Therefore I was astonished to find one of these here in June. It was really stunning how obvious the differences in structure and colour were in comparison to the other two gull species.

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Two in one sweep

Originally, I had planned to visit the Fichtelgebirge today, in order to find an obviously tame Three-toed Woodpecker that had been reported on ornitho.de. However, this morning I skipped this plan, as yesterday evening a Thrush Nightingale had been discovered in the Mohrhof-Weihergebiet. The eastern sibling of the more common Nightingale looks and sounds very similar to the latter and isn't actually easy to identify. So it is quite understandable, that I'm normally a bit sceptical when I read about Thrush Nightingale sightings beyond eastern Germany, which is by the way its western distribution boundary. Nonetheless, since both sound recording and record shots had been uploaded to ornitho.de, this case was naturally different.

 

I started as early as possible and went straight to the location where it was seen last. At first it remained very quiet there (well, some other birds were singing of course, but not the one I hoped for) and I had to wait quite a while until finally the striking song of the Thrush Nightingale could be heard. Sadly, during the next twenty minutes the bird didn't hop out of its bush a single time, but still I'm happy with my sound recording, which is a lot better than nothing at all.

Afterwards I spent another hour or so walking around in the area, where I could add Little Bittern, Purple Heron, Savi's Warbler and Sedge Warbler to my year list. Generally, this site is very nice and many rare species like Black-necked Grebes breed there, although it is not always easy to spot them from the paths.

Grey Heron
Grey Heron
Black-necked Grebe
Black-necked Grebe

As I was already rather close to Erlangen, I made a detour to the suburb Tennenlohe before driving back home, where my second target species of this day, a male Red-breasted Flycatcher, spends now its second summer in a row. Despite no female is anywhere nearby it's singing the whole day and has apparently adapted to the permanent presence of humans. So I got very close to this small guy and was able to take some decent pictures, although the light was far from good.

Red-breasted Flycatcher
Red-breasted Flycatcher
Red-breasted Flycatcher
Red-breasted Flycatcher
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Up and Downs

As according to the weather forecast storms are approaching in the next days, I used these two last nice days with intensive birding. Yesterday I paid the Ortolan Buntings at Grettstadt a visit, which has become kind of a tradition over the last three years. Unfortunately, it was a bit windy and so the buntings were just reluctantly singing. In the end it must have been roughly as many as last year, but due to the suboptimal conditions I can't be absolutely sure. Last year wasn't actually a particularly good year for the Ortolan Buntings in Franconia, so let's hope that this breeding season will be better.

Welcome extras here were my first Quail and Wryneck of the year, though only heard.

Common Whitethroat
Common Whitethroat

Today I started with the Unterbrunner Mainschleife in the Upper Main valley. Birding began here already at the car park when I spotted two Turtle Doves, before I even got out of the car. Immediately afterwards a Golden Oriole sounded out of the nearby wood, year tick number 2. 

While the start was really great, the situation on the lake didn't look so good at first, because there were virtually just a couple of Canada Geese and Mallards. However this changed also rather quickly, when a small white egret appeared on the opposite shore. A brief glance through the binoculars confirmed my first assumption, a Little Egret. Though this species is increasing in Germany, it's yet a scarce sight.  Normally this would have been reason enough to be pleased with the day, but the site kept on delivering, as no five minutes later a Grasshopper Warbler set in with its song. 

 

After a while I went to the second hide on the western shore of the lake. Here masses of Common Whitethroats were singing, accompanied by Nightingales, a Marsh Warbler and a Bluethroat. A closer examination of the bushes produced furthermore a pair of Red-backed Shrikes and a Wryneck.  Unfortunately I had strong backlight, so it was very difficult to make pictures on this place.

Grasshopper Warbler
Grasshopper Warbler

Instead of driving straight back home I decided to make a detour to a small lake near Breitengüßbach. This should turn out to be a wise choice, because alongside with four Little-Ringed Plovers and a Lapwing I spotted a Little Tern resting on a sandbank! For all people living close to the sea this might sound not so spectacular, but in Southern Germany this is a true rarity with just a handful records each year. After enjoying this gorgeous bird for a few minutes through the scope I made some record shots and left the site. What a great end of a superb birding day!

Little Tern
Little Tern
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Back to Birding

It has been quiet on this blog for quite a while, mostly because I've spent three weeks in Israel, which is by the way not only a beautiful country but also terrific for birdwatching. Soon I'm going to report more on my experiences there as well, but for now I'll focus on my current sightings here at home.

 

Today I started with the "Schlagenweg" near Zell a. Ebersberg hoping to find some classical woodland species. The site is especially interesting because three species of flycatchers breed in the ancient forest, namely Pied, Collared and Red-breasted Flycatcher. The latter is by far the rarest of the three and since the first individuals are just arriving from their winter quarters, I couldn't seriously expect to find one. The other two have however been reported since at least four weeks on ornitho.de, though mainly from other sites. Therefore I was a bit shocked that on the first kilometer I didn't find a single flycatcher but just the usual Wood Warblers and Chaffinches. It took very long until I heard the first individual faintly in the distance. Fortunately, it changed its position and came very close to the path so that I was able to take a record shot of it. 

 

Despite of this nice sighting it is nonetheless strange that I haven't found even a single Pied Flycatcher. On the way back I came at least across one further Collared Flycatcher but this species is as well underrepresented in comparison to last year. I wonder what the reason for this is. I can only hope that it was because of the admittedly late daytime.

Collared Flycatcher
Collared Flycatcher

Afterwards I went to the Großer Wörth, which is - as said some times before - one of my favourite sites. Before walking the classical circular route I made a detour to the neighbouring airfield in order to connect with the Corn Buntings there. Fortunately, it took no longer than five minutes until I heard their characteristic jingling song.

A quick visit of the observation tower produced the usual Reed Buntings, Eurasian Reed Warblers and Great Reed Warblers, but no Little Bittern. I guess that I would have needed a bit more patience for observing one of those, but I simply didn't want to stay longer there than necessary. Along the circular path I finally heard the songs of several common species like Nightingale, Garden Warbler or Cuckoo that I've so far missed in the year, since the most hadn't yet arrived, when I had left Germany in April. So I could add some easy year ticks within a couple of minutes. 

 

On the sandbanks of the opposite shore there was surpringly a small flock of large gulls, which normally are rather found in the winter. Yellow-legged Gulls are indeed rare breeders in Franconia, but the also present Caspian Gulls were a really unusual sight. Perhaps this comes because of the continuing expansion of this species over the last years. Alongside these probable migrants I found furthermore some Lapwings and a pair of Little-Ringed Plovers.

So in the end I've seen 62 species today, of which 8 have been new for this year.

White Wagtail
White Wagtail
Yellow-legged Gull
Yellow-legged Gull
Caspian Gull
Caspian Gull
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Spring Feelings

On my walk around the Großer Wörth today afternoon the first avian signs of spring were eventually evident. The air was filled with the songs of Chiffchaff, Reed Buntings, Skylarks and many more short-distance migrants, on the water there weren't just the usual Tufted Ducks but also the first Garganeys and finally on the sand banks hundreds of Lapwings were feeding. A more focused look on the latter produced furthermore my first Snipe and Little-Ringed Plovers of 2017, which shared the mud with some Water Pipits, White and Grey Wagtails.

 

This great variety of birds is always overwhelming after the winter and so I wasn't even surprised when a lonely Common Crane circled over the area, the 6th year tick of the day. All in all, it have been two hours of relaxed birding. That's the way how it should always be.

Lapwings
Lapwings
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Little Bunting near Fulda

Last week a Little Bunting was found in a suburb of the hessian city Fulda (about 20 km from the Bavarian/Franconian "border"). At first I couldn't believe it, but the record photo, that was later on added to the observation on ornitho.de, left no doubt anymore. What a find! This sibirian bunting belongs to the "usual" autumnal rarities that are seen annually along the North Sea coast, especially on the rarity island Helgoland. However it is both remarkable that this individual has come so far inland and that it obviously stayed there the whole winter. Anyway, as the bird was just a 1,5 hours drive away, I couldn't resist the temptation and tried my luck today. Who knows when the next will come so close to my home.

 

When I arrived this morning on site, the skies were overcast and the light was dull, but at least it stayed dry. The bunting had been seen over the last days in private gardens on the edge of the suburb, so I started my search right there. This proved to be a good tactic, as it took no longer than 30 minutes until I spotted the inconspicuous bird sitting in a tree. All in all a really uncomplicated twitch rounded off by a set of record shots.

Little Bunting
Little Bunting
Little Bunting
Little Bunting
Little Bunting
Little Bunting
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Gulls Revisited

Although it is considerably warmer than a week ago and the ice on the rivers and lakes is melting, the gulls in the harbour of Bamberg remain the most interesting ornithological subject at the moment. Today I hoped to find the ringed gull again, which had recently been discussed intensively and is now identified as Caspian Gull. However there were much fewer gulls than on my last visit and just a couple of large gulls. Even though I scanned the area carefully, I couldn't find it.

 

Nevertheless, it was yet a sucessful day, as I caught up with two Herring Gulls (1x ad and 1x 1st winter), a 3rd winter Caspian Gull and surprisingly with a 1st winter Great Black-backed Gull. The latter certainly is the individual that had been observed for several weeks on the Porznersee and has now obviously moved to ice-free harbour.

Great Black-backed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
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Gulls on the Ice

Winter holds on and by now all lakes and partially even the rivers are frozen. Accordingly, there aren't many places left for observing water birds, the harbour of Bamberg being arguably the best at the moment. Today I spent some nice hours there enjoying the great light and watching out for interesting gulls.

 

The Black-headed Gull is of course still the most numerous gull-species, followed by Common Gull (some dozen) and Caspian Gull. Interestingly, there were almost no Yellow-legged Gulls, which is or rather has so far been the most common representant of the larger gulls.

Among the several Caspian Gulls I found another interesting, ringed, subadult gull, which was identified by altogether five birders as Herring Gull. At least the pale iris, the compact bill, the shape of the head, the pink legs and its short-legged appearance pointed towards this species. However, a few days afterwards I read on ornitho.de that, according to one of the observers, the ring was assigned to a Caspian Gull ringed in Belarus. Considering the rather straight-forward ID in the field, I'm not sure, whether this can be true. Can this bird really be a Caspian Gull, even if seemingly all field marks point against this species? Have a look for yourself.

Fortunately, there was also a much clearer candidate for a Herring Gull present, namely this immature individual (see the pictures below). The pale iris, the evenly patterned underside, the compact structure and bill should make this bird a clear case.
As you can see, the harbour of Bamberg is currently a really exciting place for birdwachting. I'm curious what will be found there in the next days.

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