I worked for a month this summer at a scientific institute in Bonn, and spent as much time as I could spare birding various areas in west-central Germany. I found it very difficult to get good information in English on German sites and so perhaps this novice's account will be found useful.
Mark Oberle sent me the pages from the 1989 ICBP Technical Publication No. 9 by R.F.A. Grimmett and T.A. Jones, giving an inventory of major ornithological sites in Germany (or what was up till then the two Germanies). This gave useful suggestions of locations, as well as an idea (though somewhat out of date) of the breeding birds in each. I received useful advice also from Rick Tietjen Wright (who told me about Waghäusel), Gerd Rotzoll (who gave much advice about sites near Hannover), and Paul Rakow (who pointed me to GermanBirdNet and offered advice about sites in the Berlin area), as well: thanks to all!
Needless to say, aids beyond an identification guide and binoculars are important in birding in Europe. The Sitelle CDs of European bird songs are a wonderful resource, much better than anything we have for this continent. And a spotting scope seems to be more important than it is in the US because the wildlife refuges tend to protect the wildlife better there.
I visited, at least briefly, six major German bird refuges: Steinhuder Meer, Meissendorf, Drömling, Rieselfelder Münster, Wagbachniederung, and Kühkopf. Here are brief descriptions of them.
This is a popular summer vacation spot, with several large yacht clubs spotted around the lake. Some of the adjacent fields are interesting as well. There is a road leading northeast from Winzlar, ending at a canal, where I found Red-backed Shrike and other interesting birds (as well as deer and a mysterious wild dog, mottled brown and black). Also interesting is the area around the Hagenburg Canal. There are pools with Coots and Moorhens, and wet fields along the canal; and from the mouth of the canal you get an excellent view of the Meer, with a large collection of Grey Herons and Great Crested Grebes.
Fall and winter are probably the best times for this area. Some of the large "Moors" (west of Neustadt for example) are being aggressively drained. The inventory lists Bittern, Garganey, Spotted Crake, Corncrake, Little Crake, Ruff, and Barred Warbler as breeders (though the last three have apparently disappeared from the area in the meanwhile).
This and Waghäusel were my favorite spots. This is an area of impoundments and fields (hayed and fallow). Just to the north is a very large closed military reserve. One can spend an excellent afternoon on top of the observation hill here chatting with other birders (there were from 0 to 6 when I visited) and watching the horizon and the surrounding fields. Throughout Lower Saxony the sky usually contains at least one Red Kite. Here one sees also such attractions as White-tailed Eagle and Black Stork. Two or three pairs of Black Stork breed here and I saw a lot of them both from the hill and in walking next to the impoundments. The view includes extensive meadows and the Meisse River (which was a disconnected series of pools at the time I visited). These draw White Storks, waders, and passerines. A Great Grey Shrike was also present, as well as at least 6 pairs of Red-backed Shrike in the immediate vicinity of the hill. Corncrakes hide in the grasses.
The forest here was greatly damaged by a severe wind storm which occurred on June 29, 1997. The destruction (and the clean-up efforts) were impressive. There is an attractive and unique family vacation spot here called Gut Sunder (29308 Winsen/Aller - OT Meissendorf; 0 50 56 367). It has a campground and a restored farming complex (from the 18th century perhaps), and runs many seminars on all aspects of local natural history. The families seem to dissolve into the forest and do not disturb the birder.
This area can be reached efficiently by exiting the A7ä5 north of Hannover at the Allertal rest-stop. Look for a road leading east, through Thoren and Bannetze, in the direction of Winzen. About 2 km beyond Bannetze there is an unpaved road leading through the woods to Meissendorf; it has a small wooden sign to Meissendorf. If you turn left at the end of this track you will be led into the Gut Sunder resort, where you can park and visit the information booth for a map and advice. Technically one is not supposed to park on the roads in the park here, but I have seen it done. Of course the woods themselves have good birds in them too and one can peek into the impoundments for marsh birds.
This is a very large area (6200 ha) about 20 km northeast of Wolfsburg, with the Ayr River separating it into unequal parts. I followed Gerd Rotzoll's instructions in search of Barred Warbler: Approach the Mittellandkanal on 244 from Grafhort. 500 meters before the bridge (under construction and impassable at the moment) take a sharp right turn. Park and follow a dirt trail through the meadow roughly parallel with the canal. It makes some turns; soon there are bushes in which the warblers breed. (The inventory gives the population of breeding Barred Warblers in Drömling as 70 pairs.) I found them but (not surprisingly) did not get satisfying views and had to rely for identification upon their characteristic chatter (which German birders call "Mopedknattern," needing very little translation). These fields are very promising and remote, and support a large population of Red-backed Shrike. A couple of Curlews flew over in the short time I was there. I did not feel that I had good enough information to make a more extensive search of such a large area worthwhile, and besides it was becoming quite windy. River Warbler and Ortolan are said to breed here also.
This is a series of impoundments (450 ha total area, reportedly to be increased by 100 next year) constructed originally to filter the sewage of the city of Münster. In 1975 a sewage treatment plant was completed and the fields were decommissioned. One third of the original area was declared a wildlife refuge. There is an attractive nature center (Biologische Station) in the south-east corner of the area (181 Coermuehle, Münster 48157; 0251 161760) where Cörmuehle and Hessenweg meet. This point can be reached by following Cörmuehle out of the village of Gelmer, between Münster and Greven. This road passes a dump, which supports a large population of gulls and corvids (watch for Jackdaws). Most of the dikes dividing the impoundments can accommodate a car. I drove most of them twice. This is a major stopover spot for Garganey and Black-tailed Godwit, Black Tern, and various waders, but I was too early to see most of these.
This is an area (210 ha) of fields, woods, reedbeds, lakes, and impoundments, between two train lines near the village of Waghäusel, southwest of Heidelberg. It can be visited by foot or bicycle. One exits from Rt 36, parks near a church, and finds the paved walkway under the road. This walkway parallels one of the train tracks. From it there used to be several paths leading into the area but only one (or two) now seem to be maintained. One can also reach the area by turning left immediately after going under the road, and then in 100 m turn right down a dirt road flanked by a large pipe.
I visited this site once before, on 5 May 1996.
Waghäusel, as it is familiarly called, is an excellent place to find a number of species which are hard to find in Germany. First, the Bluethroats. There seemed to be fewer of them this visit -- in fact, I saw only one, a rather scruffy adult male with indistinct eyebrow and no tail -- but they may just be more secretive later in the season. Also, the path through the heart of their colony, located near an old red hunting blind, has been abandoned to nettles and thistles. The 1989 paper gives a breeding population of 85 pairs.
There is an easily observed breeding population of Black-necked (= Eared) Grebes (15 pairs). During my 1996 visit a German television crew was filming these birds with their chicks.
Requiring more luck are Purple Heron (10 pairs) and Kingfisher (1 pair). I actually saw representatives of these two species, from a single vantage point at the corner of the northern-most lake. One gets there by following the path parallel with the highway till it makes a sharp right turn. There is a little trail leading further, and in 20 meters you come to a large lake. I flushed a Kingfisher (presumably a migrant rather than one of the residents) from this spot, and observed a Purple Heron hunting on a dock across the lake. (Purple Herons are not like Grey Herons. When they stand on a dock they are not doing it to show you how beautiful they are. This one slowly turned its back and crouched in a working position, and presently eased into the reeds and disappeared. I think a large dark bird which erupted briefly from the marsh was probably another specimen.) There were also Grey Herons here (showing off) and families of Great Crested Grebe. (Two broods were in evidence. The younger ones were climbing onto the adult's back.)
I am told that Penduline Tit is increasing in Germany and can be easily found in abandoned quarries. It was present also at both of my visits to Waghäusel. The main path at the north end of the area went past a nicely visible nest on the first visit. This year I found a pair of juveniles (lacking the black mask) working the heads of reeds in one of the big reedbeds.
There is a colony of Black-headed Gulls. In 1996 I walked immediately past it and could watch the chicks in the nest. On this visit that path was choked with nettle and the birds were already fledged in any case. Many juveniles were resting on the sandy margins of the impoundments. This caused a couple of adult guardians to see fit to call everyone's attention to the grave danger I presented as I scanned the pool, by noisily and unremittingly dive bombing me over a ten-minute period.
This is a good spot to spend an afternoon with your lover or your family, wandering through fields or forest on a rather large island cut out by an oxbow of the Rhine. Cars are more or less excluded. One entrance is from the village of Stockstadt (which is quite attractive). There is a concession stand just over the bridge there, and at least one restaurant on the island. I believe one can rent boats at Erfelden. It's a large area, 2400 ha.
It is said that a number of interesting birds occur, and Crane stop by on passage, but I did not stay long enough to find them. I was tired and it was threatening to rain, so I went on. I tried to check out the "Vogelschutzgebiet" my map showed along the river southwest of the farming village of Biebesheim (where I waited several times behind drays pulling farming carts). The large ponds on the map turn out to be heavily used for fishing and swimming, but there seem to be further areas I did not get to which may be good. Four White Storks stalked on the hayfield which was being used as a parking lot.
I also visited the Naturschutzgebiet just north of the Sieg river, where it enters the Rhine. This is a mix of pasture, marsh, forest, and field, close to Bonn, where I re-tuned my ears and found for example Hawfinch.
In the end I found I had convincingly identified 112 species. Here is a list, with checks for the various locales as follows. I've also included observations at Waghäusel and Heidelberg from May 1996, which add a few species to the total. In particular, the Hobby was hawking insects behind the Neckar dam in Heidelberg.
1. Bonn and vicinity, 23 June--19 July passim
2. Steinhuder Meer, 5 July 1997 (5 hours)
3. Meissendorf, 5 and 6 July 1997 (10 hours)
4. Drömling, 6 July 1997 (2 hours)
5. Rieselfelder Münster, 12 July 1997 (6 hours)
6. Wagbachniederung, 5 May 1996 (7 hours)
7. Wagbachniederung, 13 July 1997 (6 hours)
8. Other central German observations, early May and 23 June -- 19 July passim
356 Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis) 6 Red-necked Grebe (Podiceps grisegena) 23567 Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus) 67 Eared (Black-necked) Grebe (Podiceps nigricollis) 12368 Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) 1245678 Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) 7 Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea) 3 Black Stork (Ciconia nigra) 38 White Stork (Ciconia ciconia) 123568 Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) 235678 Greylag Goose (Anser anser) 5678 Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) 8 Barnacle Goose (Branta leucopsis) 7 Common Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna) 6 Gadwall (Anas strepera) 5 Common Teal (Anas crecca) 1245678 Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) 678 Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata) 3567 Common Pochard (Aythya ferina) 23567 Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula) 3 Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula) 236 European Honey-buzzard (Pernis apivorus) 234 Red Kite (Milvus milvus) 12356 Black Kite (Milvus migrans) 3 White-tailed Eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla) 23467 Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus) 346 Eurasian Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) 134568 Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo) 6 Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) 12358 Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) 38 Eurasian Hobby (Falco subbuteo) 156 Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) 56 Water Rail (Rallus aquaticus) 3 Corncrake (Crex crex) Heard 2567 Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) 23567 Common Coot (Fulica atra) 5 Eurasian Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus) 367 Little Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubius) 23457 Northern Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) 4 Eurasian Curlew (Numenius arquata) 6 Common Redshank (Tringa totanus) 57 Common Greenshank (Tringa nebularia) 357 Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus) 5 Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola) 3 Common Sandpiper (Tringa hypoleucos) 567 Ruff (Philomachus pugnax) 2 Common Gull (Larus canus canus) 8 Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) 56 Lesser Black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus) 123578 Black-headed Gull (Larus ridibundus) 1256 Feral Pigeon (Columba livia 'feral') 12 Stock Dove (Columba oenas) 12345678Wood Pigeon (Columba palumbus) 1367 European Turtle-dove (Streptopelia turtur) 1 Eurasian Collared-dove (Streptopelia decaocto) 234567 Common Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) 12358 Common Swift (Apus apus) 7 Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) 7 Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos minor) 1468 Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) 123467 Eurasian Skylark (Alauda arvensis) 378 Bank Swallow (Riparia riparia) 123678 Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) 12568 House Martin (Delichon urbica) 234 Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis) 1234568 White Wagtail (Motacilla alba alba) 13 Blue-headed Wagtail (Motacilla flava flava) 57 Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea) 1238 Eurasian Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes troglodytes) 13568 Dunnock (Prunella modularis) 13568 European Robin (Erithacus rubecula) 7 Common Nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos) 7 Bluethroat (White-spotted) (Luscinia svecica cyanecula) 12 Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros) 6 Whinchat (Saxicola rubetra) 3 Common Stonechat (Saxicola torquata) 1234678 Eurasian Blackbird (Turdus merula) 18 Fieldfare (Turdus pilaris) 137 Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos) 4 Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus) 246 Grasshopper Warbler (Locustella naevia) 6 Sedge Warbler (Acrocephalus schoenobaenus) 2367 Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus scirpaceus) 1 Marsh Warbler (Acrocephalus palustris) 5 Great Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus arundinaceus) 123567 Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) 1235678 Garden Warbler (Sylvia borin) 123567 Common Whitethroat (Sylvia communis) 6 Lesser Whitethroat (Sylvia curruca) 4 Barred Warbler (Sylvia nisoria) 13567 Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus) 123568 Eurasian Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita) 138 Wood Warbler (Phylloscopus sibilatrix) 1 Goldcrest (Regulus regulus) 8 Firecrest (Regulus ignicapillus) 12368 Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata) 6 Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus) 6 Long-tailed Tit [Scandinavian Race] (Aegithalos caudatus caudatus) 13567 Marsh Tit (Parus palustris) 3 Crested Tit (Parus cristatus) 1245678 Great Tit (Parus major) 125678 Blue Tit (Parus caeruleus) 13 Eurasian Nuthatch (Sitta europaea) 1368 Short-toed Treecreeper (Certhia brachydactyla) 67 Eurasian Penduline-tit (Remiz pendulinus) 2347 Red-backed Shrike (Lanius collurio [cristatus]) 3 Northern Shrike (Lanius excubitor) 368 Eurasian Jay (Garrulus glandarius) 168 Black-billed Magpie (Pica pica) 5 Eurasian Jackdaw (Corvus monedula) 12345768Carrion Crow (Corvus corone corone) 1245678 Common Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) 128 House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) 12456 Eurasian Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus) 1235678 Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) 1367 European Serin (Serinus serinus) 135678 European Greenfinch (Carduelis chloris) 125678 European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) 13 Eurasian Linnet (Carduelis cannabina) 16 Hawfinch (Coccothraustes coccothraustes) 13468 Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella) 1234567 Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus)
Return to trip reports.