Tuesday 27 February 2007

Shocking News!

German researchers from the University of Karlsruhe have now proven what all of us knew by intuition:
The weekends receive more bad weather then the weekdays!

Seriously, here's the link (in German though)!

They analyzed the weather data from 12 German weather stations collected during the years 1991 to 1995, a total of 6.3 Million readings, which isn't bad statistically.

Their results:
The average amount of sunshine on Mondays exceeds the Saturday sunshine by 15 minutes. And the weekend cloud cover surpasses the cloud cover during the week by 10%. It also rains more during the weekend, with rain intensity increasing by 15 % during the course of the week.

This phenomenon was evident at all 12 weather stations and was independent from the location e.g. within cities or out in the countryside.

OK, the drawback is that they have only measured but not explained it. They suppose it has something to do with the dust particles produced by e.g. burning fossil energy which happens more during the week when everybody is working than on the weekends when everyone is at home.

Now, is this good news or bad news for us birders?

Hard to say, depends on how good we can manage to adjust to it:
Hawks which are dependant on thermals e.g. should be chased after during the week, but if you're hoping for a warbler "fall-out" at Point Pelee during this year's spring migration, better get there on a weekend!

Bare Part Colouration in Common Gulls

Well, I know my posts recently haven't been all too exciting but as a matter of fact I have been working. Not only for my employer, oh no, also a little bit here and there on a few more extensive identification posts for that wonderful Cooperation project with Charlie Moores. Good stuff hopefully and soon to come...
In the meantime, and with the weather being not so nice for birding anyway, I went through my archives in search of something meaningful to put on the blog. So in - sort of - preparation for the Gull article Charlie and I are working on, here are a few comments on the development of bare part colouration in the Common Gull, Larus canus. The term "Common Gull" here does only pertain to the Eurasian forms Larus canus canus and possibly L. c. heinei (or intermediate birds between the two) and does not include the North American Mew Gull!
And as always a word of warning: the quality of the images you're about to see is excessively brilliant, actually so much so that you may never again want to look at bird photographs or even re-visit this blog. If you proceed: you have been warned!

The general concept of bare part colouration in Common Gulls as seen on the German Baltic coast during winter is as follows:
1) During their first winter after fledging, both the bill and the legs are rather bright pink and the bill shows a black tip.
2) In late winter or spring the pink gradually changes into a greyish blue which is maintained throughout the second winter until the next spring.
3) With the moult towards an adult-like plumage, the bare parts change from pale grey-blue to a more or less bright yellow, the less bright birds show a greenish/grey tinge to the yellow.

Here are a few examples of first-winter birds, all taken at the Stralsund waterfront during January and February.

The next three images show birds with bright pink bare parts. This is common during early winter and those birds that maintain a large part of their juvenile / first winter plumage into spring also seem to maintain the pink bare parts.

On more advanced birds (with a cleaner white body and a largely grey mantle) or later in winter/early spring, the change in bare part colouration becomes apparent, mostly on the bill which changes to a cold blue-grey. The legs however often seem to remain pink for a longer period.

By March however most first-winter birds show more or less greyish bare parts and only a minority still shows pink prominently.

Second winter birds are also variable in their bare part colouration:
Most birds one encounters are showing the pale blue-grey that has been acquired during their late first-winter phase. In those birds all the wing coverts visible on the folded wing of perched birds are grey and adult-like.
This is demonstrated on the next few images.

Some second winter birds however show a brownish tinge to their wing coverts and a blackish base to the tertials and it is these birds that usually still show some pink on their bare parts, most obvious on their legs. This pink however is not as bright as on average first winter birds.

This little bugger never stopped preening while I watched it, so I never got a picture of it with its head out.

In their third winter, Common Gulls have reached adult plumage and show yellow legs and bills. The yellow tone varies however individually or geographically (the Eastern heinei supposedly showing brighter yellow) and ranges from pale grey-green-yellow to bright yellow.
This variation is demonstrated on the next few images:

OK, this is all well-known and nothing new. Additionally, the pictures were horrible, so where is the punchline of this post?

The punchline is a bird I saw on the Baltic Coast on March 13th, 2006!
It was easily aged as a second winter bird by the brownish primary coverts, the limited amount of white on the wing tip and the bare part colouration which was not yellow.
BUT even though it was clearly an "advanced" second winter bird with a mostly adult like plumage on the folded wings, it showed bright pink bare parts that would even be unusual in first winter birds this late into spring!
Here are the images:

Well, I sure was.

A Gull so fair and foul I've never seen:
Fair for being such a great surprise and an exciting bird to find.
Foul for demonstrating once more the unpredictability of gulls and the chaos connected to plumage and bare part development!

Today seems to be Gull day on the blogosphere!
Check out this, this, this and this!
And frankly, this is admittedly far more exciting than a pink-legged 2nd winter Common Gull...

Saturday 24 February 2007

Hit the Trails

It's Saturday. Saturday is regarded as part of the weekend in most modern societies. Which is a good thing because it should mean a rest from the week's worries. Good idea, nice concept.

I am only mentioning this in case anyone out there hadn't noticed yet it was Saturday.
I haven't, really.

I am working.

Well, I should be working, to be honest, but sometimes it is hard to concentrate.
So I went on a little virtual trip and have discovered a nice online source for birders in North America, the "birding trails".

Exciting information about where to go and what to expect there, tons of birds I have never seen. Terrific, exactly what I need right now to make my day...

Oh, heck, I am being sarcastic, but these sites are really great and regarding my work assignments, it's about time that "the times they are a'changin", and I am sure there are brighter times ahead.
Here are a few of the many links for anyone who's stuck in front of their computer as well and also needs a Ptarmigan or Scrub Jay fix bad:

Colorado Birding Trail

Great Florida Birding Trail

Birding Trails of Louisiana

Montana Birding and Nature Trail

Nebraska Birding Trails

Oregon Birding Trails

Great Texas Wildlife Trails

Apparently there's no online Michigan Birding Trail yet (good thing, otherwise Florida, Texas and California would run out of active birders), but hey, we don't need this, we got the ABA guide to call our own!

Enjoy your online birding while you can, spring is near!

Friday 23 February 2007

Less than 3 Months!

Counting down the days to May!

Wednesday 21 February 2007

Last Chance to See..

It seems the full force of this year's winter has subsided and we are currently experiencing the big thaw. I am sure winter will be back with a vengeance at least once before May but for now Nature's traffic lights are obviously on "green" and the squirrels have regained control over much of downtown Ann Arbor. They are still a bit grumpy though...

Looking back, I didn't even get half the winter birding done that I had intended to, like documenting the three to four Snowy Owls that I just felt were hanging 'round Ann Arbor airport, but there you have it: things we miss to make a living.
I was however very anxious about getting down to the Huron as long as there was some ice left on the river as the local birders email forum was swarming with reports of ducks from there. There weren't big numbers being reported but a nice variety and if you have only ever seen Mallards and Canada Geese at the Arb's section of the Huron, you just can't picture a scene there that incorporates close to 10 species of waterfowl. Oh, I just had to go and see it myself before the ice would vanish and the birds would scatter again!
So last Monday I decided to take a few hours off work over lunch - I knew I'd pay for that dearly later but what the hay, you only live once - and went down to the Huron.

And [insert swear word at will] it was great and much, much needed!

This is a look at the Huron river at the Hospital's entrance of the Arb.

And really, there they were: my first waterbirds of the day!
"Mute Swans" one might be inclined to cry out in anger (being in North America), but upon closer inspection, the tails aren't pointed enough and hurrah, these are actually a pair of Trumpeter Swans.

The surroundings of Ann Arbor are home to a small number of these magnificent birds and even though they are half-feral (it may look as if I flushed them to get this picture but believe me, they soon resumed sleeping again with me still being there) they are a joy to watch and listen to. The Trumpet of the North!
Other waterbirds seen on this section of the river included a Common Merganser, plenty of Mallards and Canada Geese (apparently of the form interior), a good handful of Goldeneyes, 2 male Redheads, a Pied-billed Grebe and the ducks with attitude: three female Buffleheads.
Maybe it was my expert eye, schooled in years of searching for otter ... er ... left-overs or the fact that I'd been reading Poe's Auguste Dupin stories over and over again, whatever it was that had sharpened my senses of perception: I tell you when I saw those Canadas on the ice, I knew immediately that they'd either been eating a lot recently or been there before.

This is the "Beach" section of the Arb.

With a bit of good will and fantasy you can picture this (above) to be a dramatic cliff somewhere in the Rockies and start checking the banks for Dippers, or you can turn around, works just about as well:

A Mallard walked up to me expecting to be fed which I didn't do despite snapping a picture of it. I know I should feel ashamed but here's the pic anyway:

Mind you, it does look disappointed.

Just after the "Twin Peaks" on the Huron was probably the most exciting assembly of waterfowl. It was just plain great to finally get to see:
15 Goldeneyes
1 male Canvasback
6 male Redheads
1 Pied-billed Grebe
2 American Coot
25 Canada Geese
20 Mallards
1 male American Black Duck
4 Mute Swans and
8 more Trumpeter Swans
with 4 Buffleheads and a Common Merganser flying over.

The Trumpeter Swans, obviously aware of their power of voice, had decided it was about time to tell the world spring was nigh! It is surely one of the better moments in life when you get to sit at a river bank and watch 8 (later 10) Trumpeter Swans repeatedly calling out, chasing each other or - if no Trumpeter was close - the Mute Swans and shaking their wings in full courtship rituals!
Here are a few lousy pics of the scene I watched for about half an hour:

Even though the Huron downstream from the Arb was frozen, I continued along the river and enjoyed the great variety of non-waterfowls I encountered. A Hairy Woodpecker was probably the pick of the day regarding scarcity, but the singing Tufted Titmice, a Carolina Wren working its way up the rough bark of an old Willow, the Mourning Doves that flushed from the shrubbery like a flock of Sharp-tailed Grouse and the White-breasted Nuthatches that were chasing each other were just about as good to see again after such a long absence. Amongst the many American Robins ...

... were a few Cedar Waxwings, Dark-eyed Juncos, tree American Three Sparrows (ha) and Northern Cardinals were everywhere. I tried to get a photo but they somehow never allowed me to approach them enough to get a decent pic with my point-and-shoot.
This is the best I managed.

What a devastatingly lousy picture.

But these flashes of ruby red were such a dominant treat of the landscape that I decided I must convey their brilliance to the readers of my blog. Then finally I found something red that wouldn't fly away and went straight for it. It isn't quite the same beautiful shade of red as you see on a Cardinal, but at least now you'll know what I am writing about:

Only a Northern Cardinal can surpass the beauty of a Red Sign in a Bush with Snow...

And beauty was yet again the main theme of the day out. A long time ago, in the early days of bird blogging, I wrote about my most wonderful bird encounters. Well, I added another scene to this on Monday upon my return home through the Arb.
On the banks of the Huron I came to meet a group of 8 Eastern Bluebirds. I have also mentioned before how fond I am of them and really, I find them more and more wonderful each time I see them. But when a group of three of them took off to join a few Cedar Waxwings on a small branch to eat black berries, it was almost too much for this heart of mine to bear.

It was so good to be back amongst the birds again!

Tuesday 20 February 2007

A Blog from the Catskills

Today I found a new blog on Mike's site from a birder who lives close to the Catskills Mountains of New York.
I love the Catskills Mountains. Everyone does: they are home to Bicknell's Thrushes.
I actually spent some (very limited) time there in May 2005. Having visited New York City with my (back-then-still) girlfriend, I basically insisted on returning to Ann Arbor via the Catskills. One of my favourite bird groups are Catharus thrushes, so of course and obviously I was aiming at Bicknell's.
I was not able to gather a lot of information regarding birding in the Catskills before getting there but had found out through the Internet that a few are breeding on Hunter Mountain that were more easily accessible. So this was were we went, the Hunter Mountain resort (the link includes a photo of Hunter Mountain, which is why I linked to it).
Upon getting there we noticed that the peaks were still covered in snow and learned that the thrush was not expected to return to its breeding grounds there until late May, still two weeks away. The chairlifts also were not operating yet and it would have taken a considerable amount of time to climb the mountain on foot in the cold for a thrush that was still somewhere between the Caribbean and Florida (smart bird).
So after marvelling at the peaks for an hour or so we drove on.
But even without the thrush we found the Catskills to be a very, very nice area well worth returning to some day later in May or June. Who knows, we might just do that this year while we're in the US (again).

So, to those interested in the birds of the Catskills and beyond, here's the link.

Monday 19 February 2007

A Different Day at Point Pelee

Most people associate three things with Point Pelee National Park:

a) The month of May
b) Warblers
c) Vagrants

And this really seems to be all there is to it. Take a look at my previous experiences with Point Pelee:

a) I went there in May 2005 (repeatedly during the month)

b) I encountered 31 species of warbler there, the daily maximum being 23

c) I saw a Kirtland's Warbler and a Summer Tanager (and saw a LeConte's Sparrow, which one could also call a rather rare encounter).

See? Three out of three, that proves it. Here's a nice picture of a Baltimore Oriole from back then, taken at Pelee in May 2005, which is usually one of the first impressions one gets from Point Pelee.

And this is the first impression we got when we went there in early February this year during a severe cold spell.

Did you recognize it? No?
Well, this is the beach just before you enter the park, looking South-west.

Now, if you compare the two images above closely, you might notice that they are different in a subtle yet distinct way.

OK, to be honest, I wasn't really expecting things to be in complete accordance with the three points mentioned above when I went there in February but - man - I can tell you it was a very different experience!

When we drove in towards the information centre, the freshly sanded roads were attracting quite a few birds, namely Northern Cardinals, American Tree Sparrows, White-throated Sparrows and very unhappy Starlings.
At the information centre we inquired about the recent bird observations. Frankly, I was surprised that the centre was open at all and did not really expect any significant rarities to be around. Surprisingly, there were a few bird observations written on the large board in the hall, most surprisingly Turkeys (and darn, no massive influx of Ivory Gulls). I never knew there were Turkeys at Point Pelee!
Leaving the centre to get the birding started, we planned to walk along the beach all the way down to the tip and back. First we tried our luck at the West beach but soon decided that we really weren't too keen on proving to the world that no man can make it to the tip and back alive with this kind of wind chill.
Of course, we had been expecting this and one of the reasons for choosing Pelee as a weekend destination was the geographical fact that one gets to choose between two beaches, whichever provides the best shelter from the storm.
So it was the Eastern beach we walked along all the way down to the tip. The lake to the East of the peninsular looked much more peaceful and - who'd have guessed it, there were even birds around on the water!

Amongst the floating ice we soon spotted many Goldeneyes, Common Mergansers and a lone Long-tailed Duck. Looking towards the north we could see a small group of Canada Geese and just like on the Baltic in winter, the genus Haliaeetus seems to maintain a very affectionate relationship with geese, thus providing us with a good view of an immature Bald Eagle close to the geese (we could tell it was an immature because it wasn't bald yet - ha).
The great price however was the landscape, to be honest - and a group of Tundra Swans out on the lake.
I really like swans, and in this kind of landscape they are just amazing to watch:

The beach itself was rather interesting as well and provided us with good observations of more White-throated and American Tree Sparrows as well as an immature (2nd cy) Northern Harrier.

And this is what it was like on the southern tip of Canada. We really tried - being that far south - to see Florida, but utterly failed. I had really hoped for this particular lifer there (seen around the same time), but well, maybe next time...

The tip of course was not quite as birdy as it was in May but yet again, your Bell Tower Birder provided Canada with yet another great record: there was indeed out in the storm Canada's southern-most Northern Cardinal. I would say it was great to watch in the snow and ice but heck, it was so cold and stormy that one barely dared to expose even a blinking eye to the wind.
On the image below, you can sort of get the picture what it was like. You see the ice on the branches of the water drops driven there by the wind before the bay froze over completely?
Yes, that's cold, really cold.
And now imagine a Northern Cardinal on one of those branches.

You'll have to admit: a Cardinal is one hot species of birds, but just not hot enough to get a birder's enthusiasm going for too long in that kind of weather.

The walk back to the information centre was rather uneventful along the tarred road. Sure we would have missed a flock of Whooping Cranes on the road for want of making it back to the warmth of the car quickly, but I really think there weren't any.

After we had warmed up a bit, we decided to try our luck at Wheatley Harbour to maybe get a Ross's Gull amongst the many Thayer's or at least have a good look at a Slaty-backed or two.
Upon getting there, there was a fascinating whirlwind of zero gulls. Nada, nix.
Just ice.
Oh well, as with the hopes for a Yellow-throated warbler: there shall be other times.

Driving towards Leamington however we stumbled across a nice flock of Snow Buntings besides the road and a Bald Eagle - this time a sparkling adult - flew over so closely that I could have taken this kind of photo easily if I had not been in a car and of course had a decent camera.

It got dark rather quickly and to the South-west we could see a major snow storm approaching, so we decided to start our 2 hour journey back to Ann Arbor after what turned out to be yet another memorable day at Point Pelee National Park.

Finally, to finish this post, a nice game that was very popular with birders at the tip on May 10th 2005:

Spot the Whip-poor Will !

Wednesday 14 February 2007

An Announcement and a Little Treasure

Despite being overrun by work, here's a short announcement and something on a Little Treasure.

As some of those who accidentally visit my blog repeatedly might have noticed, I am on good terms with Charlie Moores, quite surprisingly as he otherwise appears to be a guy of good taste and attitude. Mind you, he does have a good sense of humour as well which would explain things. The fact that I am blogging is actually all his fault, so there you have it.
We have been communicating for a while about our online things and he came up with what I think is a good idea:

What we do is that we take his great photos and profound knowledge on birds and we combine that with my ....

my ...



Anyway, so we combine all that and link up to do a series on bird identification, probably starting with the complex Ring-billed/Common/Mew Gull complex. These identification articles will be posted on both our blogs for the greater love of Google.
As this is bound to work out nicely, we have already planned beyond that, but we'll talk about these things later. In the meantime, check out his stunning warbler pics here and here.

Now about that little Treasure.

With work piling up on my desk like Orcs behind the Black Gates of Mordor I don't get to go birding that much recently. What I have to do once in a while though is (reluctantly) leave my computer alone for an hour or two to go shopping for groceries at Plymouth Mall to the North of Ann Arbor.
Just before the mall lies the North University Campus and they have a small hill right besides the road with a few very old conifers and some nice shrubbery. So what I do once in a while is I get off the bus there, take a walk over the hill, which is only about a 200 m walk, return to the main road and proceed on foot to the mall.
And this hill really is a nice little spot to marvel at and has a very boreal atmosphere. You're sort of in the middle of town with traffic zooming by, planes in the air and people all around and after two steps off the side walk you're in the quiet taiga where every Black-capped Chickadee feels like a Boreal Chickadee and every stain of resin on the tree trunks resembles the white-wash of a Great Gray Owl. Bird life hasn't been extremely overwhelming on my few visits with the only species regularly seen being Black-capped Chickadee, but there were also encounters with Dark-eyed Juncos, American Crows and a Sharp-shinned Hawk.
But by stealthily walking through this area and scanning the surroundings, you'll find a big pale brown stain somewhere amidst the white snow cover demanding for closer inspection.

And upon closer inspection, this brown stain in the snow will invariably turn into a White-tailed Deer, each time I'm there.

As a matter of fact, once you've found one, you'll start seeing all the others next to it and there's usually a handful of deer around to look at.

And I tell you, they are beautiful to look at.

Just like this.

Tuesday 13 February 2007

Back - but not completely

Good grief, I haven't put anything up on the blog for almost an entire week. The longest time EVER Bell Tower Birding was off-line. Mind you, Surfbirds still hasn't returned, and that's serious...
The reasons are manifold and include endless work assignments, illness and pestilence amongst the other usual catastrophes but I won't go into the details. It's bad enough as it is and it will sound like a bunch of lame excuses anyway. Talking about excuses, there's no time really to write a proper piece of text today either, so a few pictures will have to do.

I got some new images yesterday, so I can illustrate a few of the adventures I wrote about ages ago. Like the Snowy Owl Laurent and I went to see almost a month ago (which incidentally was about the last time I went birding). For the complete story, go here (again).
And here's the pictures.

The first picture below clearly illustrates the pristine natural state the owl's chosen landscape in South-East Michigan was in. This is definitely the best choice a bird from the vast wilderness of the North could make:
A dead pine trunk stripped bare of its branches to sit upon on the banks of a flowing river with large expanses of barren Tundra in the background to survey for lemmings.

You can even see the owl on the picture. Well, no you can't, but you can believe me that the white blob on the street lamp ... er ... pine tree is not snow but really the owl.
The next image below demonstrates our vantage point from where we watched the owl at first. As you can see, it was extremely cold, windy and tough as well as in the heart of the wilderness but we just had to brave it, we had to and yes, it was worth the pain...

...until Laurent suggested we move into the bakery just adjacent to the parking lot we were standing at, sat down in the comfortable armchairs in front of the window, got ourselves some donuts and coffee and watched the owl from there. Here's a pic of your Bell Tower Birder doing just that.

Smart choice and thanks again, Laurent. You see, Laurent is relatively new to birding (advancing fast though) and has a far more practical and open-minded approach to it than I have. It might not seem classy or appropriate to watch a SNOWY owl from a heated room when you start to consider it, but once you've considered it through, it is a damn fine choice to make and stylish as well to say the least.

Wednesday 7 February 2007

The Birding Year 2006: January and February

The weather is improving (again, daytime temperatures in degrees Centigrade, can't deny my European roots):

It is still a bit too cold to be walking the Arb for hours and I still have a shugar pile of work on my desk, so I'll stay indoors again. Gosh, not much birding done lately.
But as I had sitemeter installed lately, I am aware that quite a few people accidentally visit my site each day, so I knew it was my responsibility to put something new up today.
And so I decided for the first of my episodes on the birding adventures along the Baltic coast in 2006, the

2006 Birding Year Summary, part 1

January and February of 2006 on the Baltic were characterized by a grim cold spell (ha, wonder why that sounds so familiar) that caused most of the bays along the Baltic coast to freeze and also by a tremendous amount of work not allowing for much birding (yet again, I feel I have somehow seen that before).
I nevertheless managed some fine city birding. As you can see here, the old city centre of Stralsund is actually an artificial island, surrounded on one side by the Baltic Sea (a narrow strait called Strelasund separating the island of Rugia from the mainland) and on the other side by a chain of artificial ponds. These ponds are surprisingly good for birds during winter and migration but often freeze over completely by mid-winter.

One of the best birding adventures of each year when the ponds are frozen is taking a prolonged lunch break and walking down from the office to the harbour front of Stralsund . Even when ice dominates the landscape, there is always a small spot of open water where the ponds flow into the sea at the harbour front, and this area is irresistible for anyone interested in gulls and gulling.

A typical birding lunch break leads from my office to the ponds where usually a few gulls can be found resting on the ice. With the old city center as a background, this is often a very nice sight even if the species encountered are mostly the common ones, like Common Gull and Black-headed Gull.

This is the church St. Mary's, one of the largest (and most beautiful) in Northern Germany.

Quite often, people carry a supply of bread with them to assist - if necessity arises - any birdwatcher in getting close to the gulls. Very considerate people, I must say. On the left you can see the beautiful "White Bridges" that cross the ponds towards the centre ofStralsund.

Here again, the frozen pond with a bunch of gulls in front of the "White Bridges".

Watching the gulls from the bridge is often quite "different" as you're looking down upon them. Here's a nice adult winter Black-headed Gull in flight photographed from above.

After having checked the pond gulls, it is time to head out for the main attraction, the harbour front.
This is usually the kind of sight one is greeted with upon arrival:

A view across the ice towards Rugia.

The view towards the North is especially impressive and sometimes it is even possible to see the island of Hiddensee (highly recommended). To the left on the image below is the mainland, to the right is Rugia and Hiddensee would be visible right in the centre, but not on this photo...

Well, certainly the species one gets to see there don't include national rarities every day but they are just nice to watch.
Just as an example, you get to marvel at Mute Swans without remorse, pretty nice, North America!

And then of course there's the Mallard, we all knew that one was coming...

And there's usually a bunch of other species around, like Coots or this male Tufted Duck, crappy photo but nice eye:

Talking about eyes, here's the Goldeneye:

This nice male Common Merganser never stopped preening for about an hour, so this is all I got:

Looking at the Mallard besides it, could it be preening has the same infectious effect as yawning in humans?

And finally, the main attraction, the Gulls!

The majority are Black-headed Gulls, closely followed by Common Gull (the smaller guys seen below) and the big guys, Eurasian Herring Gulls. Also, there's usually a handful or so of the real big gulls, the Greater black-backed Gull.

Here, below, is a shot of an immature Black-headed with a Common. Yes, it is true, when it comes to who's gonna get the next piece of crumbled bread, there's no sympathy between those two species, plain to see on this image. In Germany we have a saying that - roughly - goes: if two fight, the third party wins, in this case the Mallard seen down on the ice.
A thorough fight amongst the gulls is usually the only chance the Mallards get at obtaining some of the bread.

But it is not all animosity amongst the gulls as can be seen below.

This protective side of Herring Gulls however is only rarely appreciated.

Even though all of them are common species and the balcony of Rancho Naturalista might host more diversity, it still is nice to spend your lunch hour with Coot, Jackdaw, Rook, Black-headed Gull, Eurasian Herring Gull and Mute Swan.

After having spent enough time with the gulls (usually limited by the battery of the digital camera), I used to take a short detour through town to get myself a decent German Bratwurst for lunch (oh, I had to write this) and have a look at the town hall of Stralsund, which is pleasing to the eye each time you get to see it.

And then it was back to work...

A more unusual birding day in February was owed to Birds Korea, more precisely the Bird Race for the Birds Korea Saemangeum monitoring programme. Just follow the link to the story.

Fair is foul and foul is fair and work isn't always bad. At the end of February 2006, I got to take a look at parts of the Peene valley as a job assignment.
The valley of the Peene must rank as one of the best birding spots in Germany, if not in Europe. Its vast expanses of shallow water, reeds and swamps attract an immense number of waterbirds, including for example flocks of Gadwall that number in the several Thousands , plenty of Smew, Geese, breeding Cranes, lots and lots of White-tailed Eagles, Great White Egrets, passerines beyond imagination and ... well, you get the picture.
It is just plain great!
Of course when it is all frozen there's nothing, BUT when it's all frozen, you can walk on the ice and get to places that are normally completely inaccessible, so this trip at the End of February 2006 was still a real treat, and I did see a Great Grey Shrike (I think the North American form is very different and might eventually be found to merit species status, so I use the European term).
Here's a view onto the part of the swamp I had set out to explore:

Most water channels were completely frozen ...

... as were the birch and alder swamps ...

... but a few of the smaller rivers joining the Peene still had some open water:

One of my objectives was to look for signs of Otter Lutra lutra, which are reasonably common in the North-East of Germany with the valley of the Peene being their stronghold.
So it wasn't a surprise at all that I easily found this ...

Here you can see the reason why you should refrain from telling the general public what exactly you are doing when out searching for Otter:

So this was birding in January and February 2006. I thoroughly enjoyed it, hope you did, too.