April 29, 2019

Whimbrels in the lido

Observations from April 13th, 2019

This post is about the absolute joy of unexpected observations. I often have the opportunity to spend time at the Lake of Constance in southern Germany. The landscape is absolutely beautiful, the villages and towns are as well, people are nice and friendly, and of course, there’s a rich biodiversity. I just love to go for walks in nature there because it’s always a pleasure. On this weekend in April, I especially needed a soothing walk after a particularly stressful week. I started out in the fields above Konstanz-Wallhausen and took forever because I absorbed all the sights, sounds and odors. Especially, I enjoyed seeing the Yellowhammers, Red and Black Kites again which I so often observe there. I also had a wonderful observation of a Black Woodpecker flying directly above me.

Since it had already taken me two hours to circle half of the village, I wondered if I should go to the lido or go back. The lido offers a beautiful view across the lake and sometimes, especially in winter, some nice observations. What would a visit to Konstanz be without standing at the shoreline? So I went to the lido. At first, I only saw Mallards resting on the beach. I checked with my binoculars – nothing else to see. I went a little further, turned back and checked again. And that’s when I held my breath: Shorebirds! Which I have hardly observed before. They looked similar to Eurasian Curlews, but smaller. I watched, I took pictures, and I slowly crept closer until I finally duck behind a float for swimmers lying on the beach. I couldn’t take my eyes of these two beautiful birds. Could they be Whimbrels? I had never seen these before, but I was actually just reading the book “A Flight of Curlews” by Maarten t’Hart. (In German it is called “Ein Schwarm Regenbrachvögel”, and Whimbrels play a part in the book.) I watched them until they flew off because of a boat leaving the harbor behind the lido.

I got up, a big smile still on my face, and dusted my pants off. I turned to go a little further along the shoreline – and held my breath yet again: some black and white birds looking like Oystercatchers. And Oystercatchers they were! Looking for feed at the Lake of Constance – in a lido, not in a preserve area! I could hardly suppress my joy to not scare them off. Again, I edged slowly closer to get a better view and also better pictures of this life-list first. I watched them for a quarter of an hour. They fed, they rested, and they groomed their feathers. It was magical. I felt like a I had made a spontaneous trip to the North Sea.

Of course I know where the areas are where to watch passage migrants and seldom birds at the Lake of Constance. But it was so much more breathtaking so see them so unexpected. That’s what I love so much about observing nature: you never know what you will see.

Posted on April 29, 2019 19:48 by inasiebert inasiebert | 45 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

May 21, 2018

Western Capercaillie in Lääne County, Estonia

Observation from April 1st, 2018

We had spent five days with impressive and often rare observations on the western coast of Estonia. On our last day, there was still time for a last outing in the early morning before we had to leave. How great would our last observation be? Our guide wanted it to be a Western Capercaillie.

We drove on and on through Leidissoo and Läänemaa Suursoo Landscape Reserve, looking for it. The habitat met the requirements of the species: old and sparse forests with lots of shrubs. Since Western Capercaillie are very territorial, our guide knew of course where to look.

Finally, he noticed droppings of a capercaillie underneath a tree right next to the road. A capercaillie had spent the last few nights here.

We stopped and looked in every direction. Suddenly, a male Western Capercaillie appeared from the shrubs behind the second van. It held its head up high, the beak was open, the remains of berries hanging from it. The tail was spread in a fan. I thought it would quickly leave again, but it went around the van and looked at us. The very stunning bird was only two meters away from us!

Everyone took pictures. Windows were rolled down and doors slightly opened. This was by far the closest we had gotten to any bird on this vacation. The capercaillie still came closer, making those very strange and hoarse clicking sounds. Even though I was in a van, I became scared and rolled the window up again when it stood directly in front of the door. The bird was huge, and it looked both very strong and very agitated. I was afraid it might jump or fly up. It didn’t, but it also didn’t leave.

It was threatening us, going from one van to the other. When it started to peck against the tires, we decided to leave. Which was not easy, since the capercaillie wouldn’t let go and even went in front of the slowly moving van. We finally managed. By now, we were nearly as agitated as the bird had been – what a great experience at the end of a perfect birding vacation!

Posted on May 21, 2018 19:18 by inasiebert inasiebert | 1 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

Northern Hawk Owl in Lääne County, Estonia

Observation from March 31st, 2018

On our first day of the birding vacation, the guide had asked us about the species we absolutely wanted to see. I was curious about every species that was listed as a possible observation during our trip. But my special wish was a Northern Hawk Owl which I had observed once before in Canada. He raised an eyebrow and told me that I had quite raised the bar. Only two days later I found out that he had actually never seen one himself. With his experience, I was very surprised to hear that!

So, my wish also was his very own mission. We actually saw one near the lake Veskijärv in Läänemaa Suursoo Landscape Reserve, but it was very far in the distance. We could hardly recognize it with spotting scopes. We tried to get closer, making our way through bushes and across frozen ponds, but we couldn’t get a better look. Not a very satisfactory lifer!

Another group of birdwatchers was staying at the same lodge we did. The guides knew each other well and exchanged tips about observations. A Northern Hawk Owl was supposed to be in an area we had already visited on an outing during the day.

On the next evening after dinner, we went to these fields west of Leidissoo. We tried different paths, but nothing. Sunset came near. And then, we saw it! Perching at the top of a tree, overlooking a field. Slowly, we drove closer. It didn’t bother, checking the ground for prey. I couldn’t believe our luck. And I couldn’t wait to stop. Luckily, our van had sliding doors, so we could take pictures without leaving it. While I was photographing, the owl glided down to hunt. But it came back and landed on the same spot. It was such a magnificent sight!

We became bolder and left the vans. The owl still didn’t care, even though we were only about 50 meters away. It watched the ground and went for another hunt, coming back to the line of trees again. Everyone enjoyed the observation, but the guide and me were the most excited on this evening.

Posted on May 21, 2018 14:12 by inasiebert inasiebert | 1 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

Black Grouse in Lääne County, Estonia

Observation from March 30, 2018

In Germany, Black Grouse are critically endangered. According to NABU (Naturschutzbund Deutschland e.V./Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union), less than 1.600 female Black Grouse live in isolated areas.

In Estonia, however, the number of male Black Grouses is supposed to be up to 10.000 birds (according to our guide). To watch some of them, we went to a traditional lek site in Läänemaa Suursoo Landscape Reserve. It was an area of huge fields between woods and bogs.

We had gotten up at 5 a.m. and arrived before daybreak. It was minus 10 degrees, and the ground was frosty and partly covered in snow. We stopped on a road and watched from a great distance, staying close to our vans. About 25 male Black Grouses were already there.

They displayed their tail feathers in a fan, strutted in the arena and faced each other. Some flew short distances to fight other grouses, some left the arena, and some stayed on birch trees in the distance. The air was filled with their deep bubbling and sometimes hissing sounds. We supposed that there were more grouses around than we actually saw.

It was a unique experience! We were excited and in awe. Watching and listening to the lekking grouses while the sun was rising, no one was tired, hungry or freezing. We stayed for more than one hour, watching with binoculars and spotting scopes and taking lots of pictures. Only before leaving, we had coffee and sandwiches right there on the field. Best breakfast ever!

Posted on May 21, 2018 11:31 by inasiebert inasiebert | 2 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

April 22, 2018

Ural Owl near Elbiku, Estonia

Observations from March 29th and March 31st

Off to another outing in the evening! This time, we wanted to try and find a Ural Owl. We went into a wood with a lot of clearings near Elbiku in the county of Lääne.

Our guide discovered footprints of a Brown Bear in the snow, crossing our path. According to him, they were about a day old. A few hundred meters along, we again saw footprints, this time imprinted in ice following the same path we did. They were older. There are approximately 700 Brown Bears in Estonia. On our trip, we saw footprints in the snow at three different places in Lääne county.

In the middle of a big clearing we stopped. Ural Owls don’t live in dense and big forests, they need light old woods with clearings. They are also very territorial, so our guide knew exactly where to go.

He played the territorial call of a Ural Owl. We didn’t have to wait long for the answer: Huhuhuhu! We stood still, listened closely and looked everywhere. Our excitement grew. Then, the Ural Owl came. It landed on one of the few remaining trees in the clearing. But before everyone had really seen it, it left again.

A Ural Owl flew along the edge of the forest. We now heard both male and female, calling their “Hus” and also the more croaking calls, but they remained in the forest. We stayed on, waiting. The calling stopped. But then, one of the owls showed up again and landed in a tree right before the setting sun. It was a very beautiful sight for a few minutes, before it left for good.

Two days later, we went back to this area in the early morning. After the sun had already risen, we saw a Ural Owl gliding through a thicker part of the forest and landing in a tree. It remained there longer than we did, probably still searching for prey.

Posted on April 22, 2018 09:36 by inasiebert inasiebert | 3 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

April 16, 2018

Eurasian Pygmy-Owl, Viidumäe Nature Reserve, Estonia

Observation from March 29th, 2018

On two outings before at sunrise and sunset we had unsuccessfully tried to hear and see owls, especially the Eurasian Pygmy-Owl. Third time’s a charm! We went again to Viidumäe Nature Reserve where we had been on our first evening in Estonia.

Viidumäe is only 7.5 kilometers long and less than 1 kilometer in width. Almost 85 percent of the reserve consists of forests. Although it is small, Viidumäe is populated by at least 600 different species of plants as well as many different species of animals.

We stood on the narrow winding road between spruces and pines, waiting. Our guide called out like a Pygmy-Owl. By now, we knew that call well! We stood still and listened. Nothing. Since a Pygmy-Owl answers the call pretty soon or not at all, we went further. Luckily, there’s not much traffic on the roads of Saaremaa (at least not during this time of year and at this time of day).

Our guide called again. And this time, there was an answer. We were all very excited, turning our heads and searching the treetops. But the owl seemed to be further away in the forest. Again, the guide called. Again, the owl answered. We noticed that it obviously turned its head in every direction while calling, but it remained in the forest. This went on for about 15 minutes. The owl called more emphatically, but it didn’t come closer. Binoculars and spotting scopes were pointed at the treetops in vain.

I have to admit, I had given up hope of actually seeing it. Standing on an icy road in a snow-covered Estonian forest at sunrise and listening to the owl already was a great experience. Suddenly, someone spotted it at the top of what seemed to be the tallest tree next to the road. It was an amazing sight – such a small owl, only the size of about a starling, bright yellow eyes, the body already lit by the first rays of sunlight. We watched and took pictures in awe. The owl didn’t move, and we slowly went closer.

It didn’t care about us, and it didn’t care about the Perching Birds starting to sing in the depth of the trees as well as some of them becoming agitated by the presence of the owl. Two Eurasian Siskins even harassed the owl, but nothing happened. After having enjoyed the sight for a while, we left the place before the owl did – breakfast was waiting for us.

Posted on April 16, 2018 19:41 by inasiebert inasiebert | 1 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

April 15, 2018

Ducks and geese in Vilsandi National Park and on the peninsulas of Tagamõisa and Ninase, Estonia

Observations from March 28th, 2018

On March 28th, Steller’s Eiders were to be the highlight of the day. Some hundred of them spend the winter on the coast of Saaremaa. To observe them, we drove to the northern part of Vilsandi National Park and walked along the coast from Metsaküla (across the peninsula of Harilaid) to Undva pank.

Vilsandi National Park consists of more than 100 islands as well as several bays of the western coast of Saaremaa. About 250 different bird species have been observed here, and the diverse vegetation offers juniper and more than 30 different species of orchids.

It was one of the rare calm days at the coast, and we got to see many birds – although most of them far from the coast. Directly at our first observation point, we saw four male Steller’s Eiders. They were sleeping out on the sea in a flock of different ducks like Long-Tailed Duck, Common Goldeneye, Mallard and Tufted Duck. We could only watch them with a spotting scope. Closer to the coast were Mute Swans, Black-Headed Gulls and Common Mergansers.

At Undva pank, there were dozens of Mute Swans swimming way out on the sea. Here, I observed my first Common Shelducks, most of them resting or grooming. Mallards, Common Goldeneyes, Common Mergansers and Black-headed Gulls were also present. Two Common Eiders flew by in the distance, and two Snow Buntings flew inland, coming from the sea. It was a beautiful, but short moment, since unfortunately, they didn’t land. A flock of about 20 Taiga Bean Goose flew directly above us along the coast.

Our next stop was the port of Saaremaa on the peninsula of Ninase. It was built especially for cruise ships. On this day, a cargo ship was being loaded with wood chips. Far behind it, dozens of Steller’s Eiders were floating on the sea in a huge flock of Tufted Ducks and Greater Scaups. Unfortunately, because of the work going on, we were not allowed to go on the quay to get a closer look.

On the quay, some Great Cormorants were resting and grooming. In the port basin, we could watch Long-Tailed Ducks (mostly males), Common Goldeneyes, Common Mergansers and three Eurasian Coots. A single female Velvet Scoter swam among the Goldeneyes. We went back the next day, but the Steller’s Eiders were still too far out on the water, and the ship was still being loaded. We observed the same species as the day before.

At sunset, we went to the springs of Odalätsi, looking for owls. We didn’t hear or see any, but we observed a White-Throated Dipper resting at one of the ponds. It blended in with the surroundings and was very calm – even though 13 people with cameras and spotting scopes were observing it from a distance of only about three to five meters. Up until that day, I have never seen a resting Dipper!

Posted on April 15, 2018 14:52 by inasiebert inasiebert | 30 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

April 09, 2018

Tere tulemast Eestisse - Welcome to Estonia!

Observations from March 27th, 2018

I have always been interested in nature and the animals living among us. But up until about three years ago, I haven’t observed nature in detail. This has changed a lot, and now I want to observe and learn as much as I can.

To get a better knowledge about birds, I had decided to go on a birding vacation with an expert guide and other keen birders. During the time I could take such a trip, I had the choice between north and south – Mallorca and Estonia. I chose Estonia because it sounded so much cooler on every level!

At the end of March, we were especially supposed to see Steller’s Eider, Long-tailed duck, other ducks, geese, Ural Owl, Eurasian Pygmy-Owl, Northern Hawk Owl, Black Grouse, Western Capercaillie, Bohemian Waxwing and different woodpeckers. For owls, woodpeckers, Black Grouse and Western Capercaillie it should already be mating season.

The weather during the vacation was perfect. We had clear blue skies and no wind at the coast. The temperatures were well below 0 degrees Celsius, though, especially on our outings before sunrise and after sunset.

On the day of our arrival, we drove several hours from Tallinn to the western end of Saaremaa. Saaremaa is the fourth largest island in the Baltic Sea and the biggest one in Estonia. It is sparsely populated and offers great landscapes and stunning, unspoilt coasts. It is well known for its rich flora and fauna: More than 200 of the local species are protected. Saaremaa is also located in the migration area of numerous bird species.

On our way, we made the first observations in passing: lots of Common Buzzards, a hunting White-Tailed Eagle, several Red Foxes, waterfowl and Ringed Seals on the ice between the mainland and the island of Muhu.



Especially the Common Cranes and Northern Lapwings fascinated me. To me, living in southwestern Germany, both species are special and rare. In Estonia, they were present on many fields next to the roads and in great numbers. The Cranes already formed pairs, but we didn’t observe mating rituals. The Lapwings, sometimes several dozens of them on the same field, showed their display flights.

Eurasian Skylarks were often foraging on the same fields as the Cranes and Lapwings. I haven’t seen them yet in Germany, but here, they were also quite common.

In the evening, we arrived at our destination: Loona Manor close to Kihelkonna. The manor dates back to the 16th century and is beautifully and conveniently located to Vilsandi National Park and to Viidumäe Nature Reserve. That’s were we wanted to go birding the next two days.

Posted on April 09, 2018 19:41 by inasiebert inasiebert | 16 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

February 24, 2018

Finches, woodpeckers, tits and some winter guests in garden areas, Heidelberg-Handschuhsheim, GER

Observations from February 11th and 13th, 2018

There is a very interesting area of gardens for nature observers between Heidelberg-Handschuhsheim and the neighbouring town of Dossenheim, The boundary to the west is a well-used road; to the east are the wooded hills of the low mountain ranges of the Odenwald. The area measures roughly about 1500 by 400 meters.

There are many different fruit trees and a few small vineyards. The German Society of Nature Conservation (Naturschutzbund Deutschland/NABU) maintains a garden as well as an old vineyard on a steep slope. The gardens are populated by lots of wildlife – even boars forage there.

@redhat regularly goes there and recommended the area to us because of its biodiversity. Wildlife can be hard to watch, though, because the paths between the gardens are also popular with bikers, joggers and dog walkers.

On the first of two consecutive visits in February, the sky was grey and it was hardly above 0 degrees Celsius. We took a walk from about 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. We had the area pretty much to ourselves, and it was like “Finches’ and Woodpeckers’ Day”. We watched Hawfinches, Greenfinches, Bullfinches, two Bramblings in a flock of Chaffinches at a feeding and a Goldfinch. Next we observed two Middle Spotted Woodpeckers. A few meters along, a Great Spotted Woodpecker was foraging. Another one was perching at the top of a tall conifer. Finally, we also got to see a Green Woodpecker which we mostly only hear.

To top it all off, we observed our first Common Redpolls. At the first sighting, I got a great look but couldn’t take a picture. It took us a while to find them again – the gardens offer lots of sources for feed and, of course, many gardens are designed so that passersby can’t get a good look inside. When we were about to give up, I saw small birds with a hint of red. Two or three Redpolls were darting around in shrubs. One finally remained still just long enough to take a nice picture.

Even though the weather was quite difficult for distinguishing birds in the distance, we were rewarded with lots of great and seldom sightings. Altogether, we observed 17 bird species and a Eurasian Red Squirrel.

On my next visit two days later, the sky was clear, and the sun was finally shining. Still, it was only 4 degrees Celsius. I went to the gardens at about the same time as on the first visit. But as hard as I looked and listened, birds were less active than on the visit before. I only got 12 species, most of them common, and no winter guests. This time, tits were in the majority: Great Tits, Blue Tits, a Long-tailed Tit and a Crested Tit at a feeding.

At the end of my walk, I watched a Honey Bee sitting in the sun, flying in circles and sitting down again. Only a few centimeters away, there was a European Firebug on a stone wall. I was quite surprised to see the first insects so early, especially when the temperatures had been hardly above 0 degrees Celsius for several days. Maybe spring is not far away anymore!

Posted on February 24, 2018 15:42 by inasiebert inasiebert | 45 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

February 12, 2018

Birds and horticulture in Heidelberg-Handschuhsheim, GER

Observations from February 10th, 2018

In Heidelberg, we’ve had about five weeks of grey sky with low hanging clouds and often fog by now. However, the days are getting longer, and more and more often, there’s birdsong in the air. Time to get out and bird!

The temperature on the weekend was barely above 0 degrees, but it was dry. I decided to take a walk in a part of the so-called “Handschuhsheimer Feld” where I often go but haven’t been to in quite a while. This place is intensely used by horticultural farms to grow lettuce, vegetables, fruits and flowers, most of them in greenhouses. Only some farmers grow wholefood products. On the fringes, there are also garden plots. The area is confined by the Heidelberg district of Handschuhsheim, the university campus, the river Neckar and a road leading to the nearby autobahn. It measures about 300 hectares.

Although this doesn’t sound like a great ecosystem for wildlife, I’ve observed about 42 different bird species and lots of insect species there over the last two years since I’ve started observing nature. An environmental impact analysis from 2005 states that 67 bird species have been verified in this area (21 of them on the Red List). The analysis was done to examine different places to build a new bridge crossing the Neckar and linking the university campus to the autobahn.

On my latest visit, I kept to the part close to town. As usual, I observed many House Sparrows – so far, I don’t know any other area where they are this plentiful. I regularly see several flocks of at least ten to twenty sparrows. Mainly, they are on or close to farms. Carrion Crows, tits and chaffinches are also very common. I watched the first Common Starlings – or maybe even ones that have stayed. Last winter, I’ve observed starlings in December and January.

The (at least to me) more unusual birds were Eurasian Bullfinches. Up to this winter, I only had two sightings of them, but since then, this number has tripled. I also watched a Great Spotted Woodpecker that I have never seen in this area before. I think I repeatedly heard a Green Woodpecker, but I couldn’t find it. Since I’ve seen one before three times, I know that this species is present.

Rose-ringed Parakeets also like the area, especially the tall, old trees next to a riding club. There was a big puddle underneath, and I watched the parakeets sliding down, hovering above the water and then flying back. One of them finally landed and drank. In Heidelberg, we have a lot of parakeets, supposedly hundreds. So I’m pretty familiar with them, but this behavior was new to me.

My visit to the area this time took slightly more than one hour and covered only a small part of the area. Nevertheless, I watched 15 different bird species and a Brown Hare. I’m looking forward to my next outings there, especially once the migratory birds are back.

Posted on February 12, 2018 22:08 by inasiebert inasiebert | 22 observations | 2 comments | Leave a comment