Dinosaur of the Week: Common Goldeneye

Bucephala clangula

This pair of Bucephala clangula was happily getting ready for the breeding season earlier this year. Luckily, they did so in the national park Lower Oder Valley – no hunting by Homo sapiens!


Germany – Looking for Wolves

So, yes, we ventured out and about to look for wolves, again. But this time, we did so with a pro! Anne does wildlife tracking and wolf monitoring – have a look at her website https://www.bewandert.eu/

We met up just south of our city, Cottbus, in a hamlet called Oelsnig, parked our bikes and strolled off into the pine forest. Birdwise, it was a rather quiet day, although we saw the first yellowhammers and goldfinches of the year. Anne taught me to imitate a raven call; she does it so well, that the local ravens started to shout back.

On our walk, we stayed mostly on the main path and our guide looked at the tracks with us. Because it’s quite sandy, plenty of prints were visible. For example, we learned to tell the difference between cat, fox and dog and how to tell a roe deer from a red deer. Spot the difference in this picture!

But since wolves were our main objective, we learned a lot about them. Anne was a fountain of information with facts reaching from genetic analysis of scat (that’s wolf poo for the uninitiated) to the animal’s role in culture and religion. She also patiently answered all my questions.

We found lots of different deer tracks, some fox, saw some places where wild boar had dug for roots and eventually, we found this. Yay!

Now, being a professional, our guide pointed out that from a couple of prints alone she could not hundred percent confirm that this animal was Canis lupus, but certain features were a strong indicator that this wasn’t a big dog. Firstly, the size of a paw and secondly, the distance between the very straight-lined paw prints. It was exciting to touch this proof of existence of a being which has been so reviled by some people. Was I afraid? No. Even when I’m alone out birding, the only things I keep a watchful eye out for are ticks and single males. Humans are not on the wolf menu. Interesting fact though: Wolves can burrow underneath fences quite well, which is why fences to protect livestock need not only to be tall but to be buried about half a metre.

So, did we actually get to see a wolf? Nope 🙂 . They are very shy and flee humans. If we ever encounter one, Anne suggested firstly, not to panic (no, we’d take photos!), not to look him or her in the eyes and then slowly back off. We did, however, find some scat which was already a bit old. Exciting to touch the hairs which had passed through a wolf’s digestive system (of course I did! I also disinfected my fingers afterwards.). We were not quite sure what hair it was but badger seems fairly likely. It was an amazing day – thanks a lot to Anne. And who knows, I might get that photo some day. I’ll certainly keep looking.

Germany – The big ones in southern Brandenburg

In my last post I wrote about encouters with small winged wildlife here in southern Brandenburg (https://spockisworld.wordpress.com/2021/10/30/germany-on-small-wings-in-southern-brandenburg/). In this one we’ll have a look at some of the bigger birds. But to start with what’s still missing on my to-see list, I hope for encounters with Great Bustard, Black Stork and Spotted Eagle (great and lesser) in the not so distant future.

Red Kites are fairly common in the area and during the summer months Black Kites can be spotted too. It’s a common sight to have Red Kites being mobbed by corvids and even much smaller birds like pigeons and even tits or sparrows.

It’s been a good goose-year for me. At least on proper pictures, I learned to switch from ‘goose’ to greylag, white-fronted and bean goose. Since taking proper pictures is far trickier than that, I’ll leave the decision about species in these ones up to you.

The Lausitz is also a fabulous place for cranes. Nothing like a crane calling out in flight on a misty morning meadow walk! The birds breed here in their thousands and gather in even bigger flocks during autumn migration.

Going back to raptors, there are of course more species than kites. Kestrels, peregrine and sparrowhawk are all on the list. Something I’ve found to be a bit of a local specialty are the ospreys which have built their nests on pylons. So far, we have seen have a dozen of them, and most had occupants. Buzzards are a common sight, though not less welcome. What we’re always on the lookout for are, of course, the white-tailed eagles. And when you see them next to a buzzard you get an idea just how massive and marvelous they are.

Germany – On small wings in southern Brandenburg

Dear reader, I know. It’s been a while and I apologize. However, I was out exploring what has now been my home for more than half a year. And there’s just so much to see, even if the wolftracks turned out to be racoons in the end. I’ll perserve and one day, hopefully, you’ll get to read a proper good and positive Brandenburg wolf story.

In this area, called Niederlausitz in German, there are many former open cast mines which are now being transformed into lakes. This is not the best idea for rewilding because of the enormous evaporation in what is a rather dry part of Germany. On the bright side, many of these former mines are now protected and so, slowly, wildlife is returning. In this post, you’ll get some impressions of what I’ve been out to see during the last few months in terms of small birds and insects. In the next one, wait for the big raptors.

In the wetter and older parts of the forests, there’s plenty of ivy. This attracts vast numbers of pollinators, the butterflies here being just some examples. On one tour, I had a Purple Emperor sitting on my hand, probably keen on minerals from the sweat.

In the pine forests, I learned to recognize the song of the Crested Tit and now they are just everywhere. It’s wonderful how learning a new birdsong opens up the world. In the meadows, Green Woodpeckers are almost always there while the Tree Sparrows are a bit less common. I also spotted my first Corn Buntings ever and saw or often just heard some birds which I had never knowingly encountered before: Wood Warbler, Garden Warbler, Icterine Warbler and Woodlark. All of this happened with the help of an app called BirdNet.

One of the main landscape features of the region is the riparian forest, the Spreewald. The main river, the Spree, divides into countless small arms and rivulets and it also feeds canals. There’s plenty of wetlands plus small ponds. There are also plenty of mosquitos during the summer which provide ample food. If the Marsh Tits actually feed on them, I don’t know though. The Mallards are probably happy with all kinds of nutrition.

We had heard that Kingfishers should be around here too, but it took us several months until we spotted the first one. The last harsh winter might haven taken a toll on them. In any case, it is always a joy to spot one, or two. What do you think?

Germany – Glinzig Lakes and Meadows in Brandenburg

We moved from Thuringia to Brandenburg a couple of months ago and since we got bikes it’s been very enjoyable to explore our new home not only on foot. And how exciting it’s been here already – from a daily dose of herons and jackdaws to fly-overs by white-tailed eagles. Today, the weather was excellent for cycling too, so we went to the lakes of Glinzig, which are part of the Landscape Protection Area Wiesen- und Teichlandschaft Kolkwitz/Hänchen. We weren’t disappointed!

The trip went along a small canal called Priorgraben from Cottbus to Kolkwitz and every 50m or so, a nightingale was making sure all the other nightingales knew that this was his patch! It was glorious, like cycling through a tunnel of nightingale song.

In Kolkwitz we had our next magnificent sight. Right next to the road up on a pole was a stork nest with, yes, white storks.

Upon arrival at the lakes, we met some people walking their dogs. I was very happy when I noticed they kept them on a leash! The place itself was really tranquil, with the occasional noises by greylag geese. Some of those already had goslings.

We walked along the lake to take it all in, including the small birds like chiffchaff and treecreeper. And another highlight – we heard two cuckoos calling. So the great reed warblers, which we heard too, need to watch out for any new eggs.

Germany – On the Trumpet Tree

Right. It’s a Trompetenbaum in German. In English it’s called Catalpa. Apparently poisonous. But never mind those trivialities. What’s important here is that said tree grows in the parental garden, I can see it clearly from the window, and it hosts the most marvellous visitors.

First of all, and always welcome, is the array of Great Spotted Woodpeckers.

Next, equally welcome by the photographers but not so much by the fish in the pond next to the tree, are the male and female kingfishers. This is the female – the lower part of the beak has an orange tinge.

Drumroll please.

Recently, said tree has been used as perch, much to the horror of all winged inhabitants of the garden, by a juvenile sparrowhawk and this one – an adult male.

Germany – Autumn Joys

I’ve always liked autumn. The changing colours, the passing flocks of geese on their migration, the smell of damp earth – it makes me feel alive. This autumn it’s a particularly strong feeling of joy because it’s my first proper one in three years and of course I’m trying to make the most out of it because nature certainly gives more joy than the news these days. So, enjoy with me 🙂 .

Germany – Autumn is coming

Well, actually it’s already here. But signs of summer still persist. I love the mixture of green and yellow and red on the trees.

In the gardens, lots of flowers are still offering a meal to the bees and other insects. Meanwhile, on the meadows, it looks a bit less so. Yet, not all is gone.

The shrubs are full of berries which will provide food for the winter.

And the birds, of course. The starlings are very audible and the occasional small or bigger flock can be seen changing trees. We usually don’t have big murmurations here. The black redstart was an unexpected sight, while the mallards have finished moulting and are back to glory. The neighbour’s garden is a paradise for green and great spotted woodpeckers.